Tennis

Matosevic is a surprise semifinalist

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla.

There is an Australian in the semifinals of the Delray Beach International, but he’s probably not the one you might have heard of. John Isner took care of that.

Reaching his first ATP semifinal of the year, Isner started to back up his Davis Cup heroics in Switzerland — when he upset Roger Federer on clay — with some solid tennis in a swirling Florida wind as he crushed Bernard Tomic 6-3, 6-2 on Friday. Tomic, an Aussie teenager, lost in the qualifying rounds here last year but has stepped up a bit since then, beating Fernando Verdasco and Sam Querrey on his way to the fourth round of the Australian Open.

“I played well from the get-go,” Isner said. “When (Tomic) has time to get into it and starts feeling comfortable, he can play the match at his pace. I never let him do that, and played the break points well although the wind was very tricky — you were never quite sure where it was coming from.”

Like Tomic, Marinko Matosevic was born in Europe before his parents emigrated to Australia, and it is Matosevic who has turned out to be the tournament’s surprise package from Down Under. Friday, the big, powerful 26-year-old from Melbourne reached the first semifinal of a modest career by outplaying Ernests Gulbis 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.

Gulbis, the Latvian who won this title in 2010, is erratic to say the least, but even by his standards, it was a spectacular collapse against a player who is so inexperienced at this level. Obviously unhappy in the wind, Gulbis found it impossible to come out on top whenever long rallies developed. Matosevic, ranked 175 going in to this event, hits a heavy ball and likes to step in, forcing his opponent on the defensive, whenever possible.

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“Yeah, I thought I earned it,” Matosevic said. “I wasn’t making enough returns in the beginning but then I started playing really well in the wind.”

This late-bloomer won a Challenger event before arriving in Delray Beach and, having fought his way through qualifying, is on an 11-match winning streak.

His coach, Josh Eagle, arrived Friday, and Matosevic has been getting calls from Mark Woodforde, who coached him last year, and Todd Woodbridge (the other half of the famous Woodies doubles team), who is head of Player Development for Tennis Australia back home in Melbourne. “Tony Roche also helps me, so I feel a bit of pressure getting so much support from all those Aussie legends,” Matosevic said.

Matosevic now plays Dudi Sela to whom he lost, coincidentally, in the first round here last year. Earlier on Friday, the Israeli defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber, the No. 5 seed, 6-4, 6-7, 6-0.

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