PARIS – French ATP tour veteran Julien Benneteau edged Croatia’s Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 7-5 Friday to reach the semifinals of the Paris Masters and keep alive his pursuit of a maiden singles title.
The 35-year-old wildcard, who finished runner-up in 10 Tour-level finals between 2008-2014, can give himself an 11th chance at a title if he can defeat either American Jack Sock or Spain’s Fernando Verdasco on Saturday afternoon.
The third-seeded Cilic appeared poised for a run at his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title after Spanish world No. 1 and top seed Rafael Nadal pulled out of the tournament Friday with a knee injury, but Benneteau had other ideas.
The Frenchman more than held his own in the service department, striking 12 aces to Cilic’s nine and also enjoyed a surprising amount of success in his return games.
Benneteau took inspiration from a boisterous home crowd in grabbing service-break leads in both sets, but Cilic drew level both times.
The first set was decided in a close tiebreaker after four service breaks, while Benneteau managed to break the Croatian’s serve a fourth time in the 12th game of the second set to clinch the victory.
After wrapping up the win with a forehand winner, an emotional Benneteau fought back tears and lay sprawled out on the court while soaking in the crowd’s cheers.
Cilic’s 32 unforced errors, 15 more than his opponent, proved to be his downfall in Friday night’s match.
Benneteau’s victory, meanwhile, ensures that there will be a new Masters 1000 champion and a first-time winner of this indoor hard-court event.
Saturday’s first semifinal will pit big-serving American John Isner, a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 winner Friday over Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, against Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic, who advanced to the final four due to Nadal’s injury withdrawal.