The Dream Continues: Benneteau Ousts Cilic
It was already an eventful day in Bercy. But the last Frenchman in the draw wouldn't let Friday end without producing more excitement.
Julien Benneteau continued his dream run at his final Rolex Paris Masters, advancing to his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final (2014 Shanghai) with a victory over the highest seed remaining, No. 3 Marin Cilic, 7-6(5), 7-5.
"I believe that win ranks quite high in everything I achieved in my career," Benneteau said. "When it's over, we'll see what will be the final ranking. It's a bit early to say. But, of course, individually, I believe it's my most beautiful emotion ever."
Benneteau’s triumph came in what was only his fifth Masters 1000 quarter-final. And despite winning the 2014 Roland Garros doubles title among 12 doubles tournament wins, the Frenchman has never won an ATP World Tour singles trophy. The home favourite will look to move into his 11th tour-level singles final (0-10) on Saturday against the winner of 16th-seeded Jack Sock and the in-form Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco.
What better way to earn a first title than in his final Masters 1000 event on home soil?
Benneteau's win on Friday was the wild card’s first victory over Cilic, who had previously led their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 3-0. It came after Rafael Nadal withdrew from the event earlier on Friday due to a right knee injury, making Cilic the de facto favourite to claim his second Masters 1000 title. Juan Martin del Potro, who was arguably the hottest player on tour, lost to ninth seed John Isner on Friday.
Yet it was Benneteau who stole the spotlight. Cilic battled throughout their match, breaking back in both sets, but it was the Frenchman who rode the energy shared by the raucous crowd despite showing fatigue. With Cilic serving to stay in the match at 5-6, Benneteau stepped into an inside-out forehand that his opponent could not reach, sending the Court Central fans into a frenzy.
"Yesterday was enormous. It was fantastic. I had good feelings, the way I hit the ball, everything. Today was good tennis-wise," said Benneteau, who added that Cilic's forehand, tactics, adjustments he had to make and more made today's win very difficult. "All this brought together, it's maybe my most accomplished match."
Benneteau threw his racquet to the ground and almost immediately burst into tears, having secured his first win over a player in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings since Shanghai in 2014 (No. 10 Dimitrov) and his first victory over a Top 5 opponent since Cincinnati that same year (No. 4 Wawrinka).