Top seed Roger Federer on Saturday survived a stern test from world number 63 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina to reach the final of the Istanbul Open after a tense three-set encounter.
Federer, 33, looking to win his 85th career title and gain confidence on clay ahead of the French Open later this month, will on Sunday face third seed Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay who swatted away second seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets.
Seventeen-time Grand Slam winner Federer looked rattled all afternoon as he failed to find rhythm on his first serve and even received a rare code violation.
Losing the first set, he eventually prevailed 2-6, 6-2, 7-5, after an almost two hour struggle.
“Diego was not missing at all,” Federer said. “He deserves credit.”
“It was a fun match, I think we both played very well at the end and there was a great atmosphere,” he added.
Showing no sign of nerves in front of his illustrious opponent, Schwartzman, 22, came out fighting in the first set with his double-handed backhand particularly potent.
In a sign of the pressure, the usually mild-mannered Federer received a code violation warning from umpire Mohamed Lahyani for whacking the ball away in anger when he failed to convert a break point.
Mixing his game beautifully, Schwartzman more than rivalled Federer’s play with cute drop shots and stunning whipped topspin winners.
After breaking the frail Federer serve twice, he took the first set with ease when the out-of-sorts Swiss world number two tamely netted a return into the net.
Schwartzman came out in the second set with similar aggression but after squandering one break point in the fourth game Federer took his second chance in what proved a turning point.
Turning on the power and with Schwartzman starting to make unforced errors, Federer raced ahead and took the second set with a service break to love.
With a tough struggle shaping up in the third set, Federer saved two break points in the fifth game, yelling “come on!” and saving his serve with an ace.
But Schwartzman stepped up a gear once more, matching Federer shot for shot in a thrilling finale.
Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Schwartzman saved one match point with another stunning backhand winner.
But Federer then made no mistake as he attacked the Schwartzman serve at 6-5, taking his first break point chance to close out the match.
– ‘Opponents nothing to lose’ –
Taking the Argentinian to their hearts for his role in by far the best match in Turkey’s first ATP World Tour Event, the crowd drowned out the start of Federer’s post match interview with shouts of “Diego!”.
Despite making only 53 percent of first serves, Federer insisted he was not troubled by his performance.
“I had a slow start maybe, yesterday was tough so it took me a little bit of time,” said Federer, referring to his tough three-set quarter final win on Friday against Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain.
“I am still here, I am hitting the ball well,” he said.
“I am playing against opponents who have nothing to lose. As long as I find a way to win it’s great.
“I am very excited to be in the final,” added Federer, who is making his first ever visit to Turkey.
In the second semi-final, Cuevas outclassed Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4, dealing the the Bulgarian world number 11 knockout punches in the long rallies and capitalising on his many errors.
The volatile Dimitrov found it hard to maintain his composure and was docked a point in the sixth game of the second set when he destroyed his racket by smashing it into the baseline.