There’s a hint of Angelique Kerber in Gilles Muller’s ride through the singles draw to tonight’s men’s final of the Sydney International.
Granted, they are different genders. But just as Kerber survived a huge scare in round one of the Australian Open last year, Muller similarly overcame match point in his opening encounter against Alexandr Dolgopolov in Sydney this week.
And yesterday he beat the tournament favourite and defending champion Viktor Troicki 6-3 7-6 (6) in high humidity.
Luxembourg’s Muller, the sixth seed, is through to his sixth ATP career final tonight and searching for his first trophy. Kerber at 28 was stalking her maiden grand slam and got it, so maybe that’s a good omen.
“I don't know if it’s gonna change,” Muller said of his 0-5 record in finals.
“I could have been out in the first round. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and then see what happens.”
His first final came 12 years ago in Washington. But the good news is he had two last year. And the better news is that his opponent in tonight’s final at Ken Rosewall Arena, Briton Daniel Evans, (world No 66) — is unseeded.
Evans stopped another lion-hearted run by Russian Andrey Kuznetsov (No 46) 6-2 3-6 6-3 to reach his first ATP tour final. It completed a great night for Great Britain as Johanna Konta won the women’s singles.
The fact an unseeded player is having a crack at the title is the part that ruffles Troicki’s feathers. The defeat of top seed Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals meant the draw had opened up more in his favour.
“It’s disappointing. I think it was a big opportunity to go far again, to win again,” Troicki said.
“But, still, all the guys are playing good.
“To reach far in the tournament, you have to play good. All the guys deserve it.”
Troicki was going for a hat-trick of Sydney titles, having beaten Mickhail Kukushkin in 2015 and Grigor Dimitrov last year. The last time it was done was in the 1940s. But at age 33, Muller is defying all the talk of the next brigade of young guns on tour such as Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Nick Krygios, David Goffin and Alexander Zverev being the ones to win the titles.
“There is many good young players out there, but yeah, I think there is also many old players out there which are still playing good,” Muller said.
The afternoon sun was as relentless as the accuracy of the Muller serve. Troicki’s Australian coach, Jack Reader, pulled out a black umbrella to give himself some respite in the second set.
In the end, a lapse in the second game of the opening set, which ended up being the only break point he conceded, and Troicki surrendered the lead. Muller raced to 3-0 and kept going, taking the first set 6-3 in 35 minutes.
It’s hard to break the Muller serve. Troicki didn’t manage it in 11 attempts yesterday. But the job is even harder if you get three chances with break points — two in the sixth game of the second set — and can’t convert any of them.
Troicki was no slouch in the serving department either. He was winning the point on his serve 87 per cent of the time. The problem was he was getting only 59 per cent of his first serves in play.
Troicki had a short revival in the tiebreak, moving from 2-5 down to 5-5 with a magnificent crosscourt passing shot. It brought plenty of gasps from the crowd and it was enough to pump up the boy from Belgrade.