NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Michael Russell let a lead slip away in the second set and fell behind early in the deciding tiebreaker. That didn’t matter when he had the crowd cheering behind him.
Russell advanced to the semifinals at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships on Thursday by outlasting No. 3 seed Igor Sijsling of The Netherlands 7-6 (3), 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5) in the highlight match of the week so far.
The 35-year old Russell lost the first three points of the third-set tiebreaker before rallying to reach his second career ATP semifinal. He raised both arms in triumph when Sijsling hit a backhand return long and wide.
“It feels awesome. I feel like I’m saving the best part of my tennis for the last couple of years, sort of the twilight,” said Russell, who reached the semifinals in Houston last year.
Russell had won the final four points of the first tiebreak, but blew a 5-3 lead in the second set.
“I just kept fighting. I got pretty frustrated with my serve,” he said. “It kind of fell apart in the second set.”
With a light fog rolling into the area, Sijsling held serve in the 12th game of third set, closing it out with an ace, before winning the initial three points of the tiebreak. But he hit a pair of backhanders long, giving Russell a chance to bounce back.
Russell evened the tiebreak with a perfectly placed drop shot from the net and won the next two points when Sijsling missed on consecutive backhanders.
“That 0-3 point was really important when I got the serve and he missed the return,” Russell said. “I fought every point and made an amazing return at 3-all.”
Sijsling saved a pair of match points before hitting a backhander long and wide on the final point.
After meeting Sijsling at the net, Russell turned an applauded the crowd.
“The fans were amazing, kept me going and fighting the whole,” he said during an on-court, post-match interview.
Russell said he never felt tired.
“I was sweating at times,” he said. “But, no, I tried to run down everything to let my opponent know I was going to fight every point.”
Sijsling knew he let it slip away, but understood the entertainment the pair provided.
“Well, I felt the crowd was a little against me,” he said. “You know that when you’re playing an American guy. It’s fun to play matches like these. I think the crowd is also enjoying matches like these.”
Russell and Sijsling took center court after a couple of rain delays pushed back play about two hours.
Nicolas Mahut, a wild card entrant, from France faced Michal Przysiezny in another quarterfinal match after the lengthy opener.