Shevchenko Combines Brute Force With Finesse To Reach Metz Semifinals

Alexander Shevchenko (photo: Moselle Open)

METZ/WASHINGTON, November 9, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

While it’s never easy to play a fellow countryman, especially when you’re dealing with the pressure of being the lower-ranked player, Alexander Shevchenko remained cool, calm and collected against World No. 15 Karen Khachanov throughout their brief Moselle Open quarterfinal in Metz, France Thursday afternoon. Those qualities contributed toward a huge victory for the underdog.

By combining brute force with finesse, the 63rd-ranked Shevchenko put on a magnificent display of tennis inside Les Arenes de Metz to defeat the third-seeded Khachanov, 6-4, 6-4, in only 72 minutes. The win advanced the 22-year-old Russian to his first tour-level semifinal after playing in just his second ATP Tour quarterfinal – and it was his second one in two weeks.

Shevchenko, a native of Rostov-on-Don, a port city in southern Russia, came in 1-8 against Top 20 players. However, his career-best win occurred just two weeks ago in Basel, Switzerland, when he defeated World No. 9 Taylor Fritz in the second round. Against Khahchanov, Shevchenko won 87 percent of his first-serve points, saved all three break points he faced, broke Khachanov’s serve twice, and outpointed him 57-47. He closed out his quarterfinal triumph with a nifty overhead smash on his first match-point opportunity.

“I felt really comfortable. To beat a player such as Karen, you have to play really, really good,” Shevchenko said during his on-court interview. “I think I showed that today.”

Asked how he handled the pressure and tension of playing on the Center Court against a top-ranked player like Khachanov, Shevchenko thought about the question briefly, then answered while cracking a smile: “I don’t know. Sometimes, after you play a lot of matches, you can handle it; sometimes not. Today, [I was] a little bit lucky.

“I’m really happy with the level I am playing right now. I am hoping to go as far as possible. … It’s been my dream to play in these kinds of stadiums. I’m enjoying every moment.”

Herbert’s experience triumphs over youthful Van Assche 

On Friday, Shevchenko will face 344th-ranked French wild card Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the semifinal round. The 32-year-old Herbert reached his eighth career ATP Tour semifinal — and first in two years — by going the distance to beat No. 70 Luca Van Assche, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, in two hours and 34 minutes.

A former Top-40 singles player, Herbert also achieved his 100th tour-level victory (he’s 100-123 lifetime in singles). It was his highest-ranked win since defeating No. 61 Federico Coria at Winston-Salem in 2021.

Now, on the comeback trail from injury and playing his first main draw this season after failing to qualify at four other ATP Tour events, Herbert struck 20 aces, won 80 percent of his first-serve points, saved four of five break points he faced and outpointed Van Assche 113-103. Riding the support of the Metz fans, it was Herbert’s experience that triumphed over the youthful, 19-year-old Van Assche.

“To be honest, Luca is an amazing player,” Herbert said in his on-court interview following his quarterfinal victory. “He’s a really tricky player to play because he puts a lot of intensity and concentration in that few are putting on tour. He doesn’t make many mistakes; he doesn’t let you get many free points. It’s been a hustle.

“He started off really well — he’s so quick on the court — and I had to be patient. In the end, I had opportunities but he kept believing. Because Luca was playing so well, I had to find a solution and play better. I’m happy with the way I played today.”

Humbert wins battle of Metz over Mayot

World No. 23 and Metz native Ugo Humbert earned his 12th career ATP Tour semifinal berth — and fourth of the season — with his 6-3, 7-5 victory over fellow Frenchman and Metz resident Harold Mayot, ranked 176th. Humbert, seeded fourth, improved to 6-1 against his compatriots this year with his sole loss coming against Adrian Mannarino at Newport. The two are battling to finish this season as French No. 1.

The victory was the 31st this season for Humbert, a personal best, and he did it by winning 80 percent of his service points, saving the only break point he faced from the 21-year-old Mayot while breaking his opponent twice — once in each set — and finishing ahead on points, 70-54, during the 86-minute quarterfinal match. Mayot was attempting to be the fifth qualifier in the last six Moselle Open events to reach the semifinals.

“It was something special because it was the first meeting between us,” the 25-year-old Humbert said in his on-court interview. “It was funny to play him here in a quarterfinal in Metz. It was a great match. I tried to stay focused, to play aggressively. I’m very happy about my outcome today.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be at home in the semifinals for the first time here.”

Fognini serves Sonego with an Italian masterclass

Humbert’s semifinal opponent will be 147th-ranked wild card Fabio Fognini, who dominated defending champion and sixth seed Lorenzo Sonego, 6-1, 6-2, in just 76 minutes, in an all-Italian quarterfinal. The 36-year-old Fognini gave a masterclass performance that was filled with quality tennis and rolled back the years against his younger opponent, 49th-ranked Sonego, who struggled with both his service and return games.

Fognini dominated Sonego during his eight service games. He dropped just four points on his first serve and won 74 percent of his overall service points. Fognini’s serve was not broken and he converted four of six break points while outpointing Sonego 61-36. In a matter of 24 hours, Fognini has defeated both last year’s Moselle Open finalist (Alexander Bublik), after saving three match points, and champion (Sonego).

“Well, I know most of the players on the Tour because I’m old!” quipped Fognini. “Today, I played one of my best matches of 2023. I felt amazing on the court. From the start, I didn’t miss any balls. I didn’t give him any shots to get into the match because I know with his game [Lorenzo] is really dangerous. I am more than happy today.”

Now, Fognini (9-12) is through to his first ATP Tour semifinal since April 2022 in Belgrade and it’s his first on a hard court since Stockholm in 2018. Meanwhile, the loss ended Sonego’s seven-match Metz winning streak.

Around the Moselle Open

No. 2 seeds Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Andreas Mies of Germany advanced to the semifinal round with a 6-4, 7-5 over French wild cards Ugo Blanchet and Matteo Martineau. The Finnish/German duo converted three of seven break points and outpointed their opponents 64-58.

In Friday’s semifinals, Heliovaara and Mies will face German pair Constantin Frantzen and Hendrik Jebens. The other semifinal will match No. 1 seeds Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland against No. 4 seeds Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul, both from France.

Thursday’s Moselle Open results

Friday’s Moselle Open order of play

By the numbers

Defending champion Lorenzo Sonego is on a seven-match winning streak in Metz, having won the 2022 Moselle Open title. Thus far, Sonego has defeated Marcos Giron and Abdullah Shelbayh in his first two matches to reach the quarterfinal round.

“Quotable …”

“He’s an amazing champion, an amazing player. I’m so sad for him. It’s not the win that I would like. I wish him a speedy recovery.”

Luca Van Assche of France, after advancing by injury retirement against Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland following the completion of the second set. Wawrinka twisted his ankle during a second-set tie-break and was unable to continue.