Murray Beats Rain & Pouille To Reach First Rome Final
Scot's experience helps navigate testing conditions
"I don't remember winning any matches, really, on my birthday which isn't a great sign," joked Murray. "Hopefully tomorrow that will change."
Murray has now reached the final of eight of the nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, with Monte-Carlo (where he has reached the semi-finals three times) the only exception. The right-hander will look to lift his 12th Masters 1000 trophy and first since August 2015, when he won in Montreal (d. Djokovic).
"I think I have made some improvements in my game [in the past year]," said Murray. "Last year I was winning a lot of matches at this time of the year, but I do think I'm playing better tennis this year. I think my serve has been a big improvement for me.
"That's why in matches like today, Lucas had no opportunities on my serve. I had a few matches like that over the past few weeks, and that hasn't always been the case.
"To get like a win in the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 losing five points on serve is the first time that's happened in my career, and that's been the most pleasing thing for me."
Rain delayed the start of the semi-final action in Rome, with the match beginning at the revised time of shortly after 3pm. Murray made the stronger start, breaking for a 3-1 lead with a forehand winner after chasing down a Pouille drop shot.
A heavy but brief rain shower caused a 13-minute delay with Murray serving at 4-2, 40/0. At the resumption, the Scot swiftly claimed a 5-2 lead. He then broke Pouille for a second time to clinch the opener, converting his third set point as Pouille hit his forehand long.
Murray raced through the second set, breaking Pouille in the fourth and sixth games before claiming victory in 59 minutes.
Speaking in a post-match TV interview, Murray said, "It's actually the first time ever since I've been on tour that I've not had chance to hit balls before we got on court. It's pretty much rained non-stop, then they flipped the schedule around and we were on straightaway when the rain stopped. So I didn't feel that comfortable coming out on the court. Obviously the break as well at 4-2 was tricky. He made quite a few mistakes and I served well today and made it easier for myself."
The 28-year-old Murray is through to his fourth ATP World Tour clay-court final. The Scot won his first two titles on the dirt last year in Munich and Madrid. Last week he fell just short of retaining his Madrid crown as he lost to Novak Djokovic in the final at the Caja Magica.
The 22-year-old Pouille has been the luckiest of lucky losers this week. After falling to Mikhail Kukushkin in the final round of qualifying, the Frenchman was granted a main draw berth when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew. He beat Ernests Gulbis and David Ferrer to reach the quarter-finals, where he received a walkover after Juan Monaco withdrew.
World No. 52 Pouille is the first lucky loser to reach the semi-finals of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament since Thomas Johansson in Toronto in 2004. His run this week is set to see him rise to a career-high of around No. 32 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on Monday.
"Honestly I started pretty well," said Pouille. "Andy is a great player. He's returning all your serves. So if you don't have a great percentage of first serves, then it's very tough. He's very offensive, puts pressure on your serves. I did not make that the best match of my life, but I think today he was much better.
"I think it's a positive week for me. Now it's time to take some rest. It's part of the job. I have been playing a lot for the past two months, so I'm a bit tired. I will take some rest and prepare for the French Open."