When the two afternoon semifinalists entered the Los Angeles Tennis Center today, the David-Goliath tenor of the match became apparent immediately. Six inches shorter than his opponent, the top-ranked Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis almost looked like an overgrown ballboy as he strolled onto the court with the unassuming demeanor of someone unaccustomed to playing in an ATP semifinal.
Once the match began, however, perceptions diverged sharply from reality. Despite those six inches separating him from Matosevic, the underdog who had advanced through qualifying cracked serves between 15 mph and 20 mph faster, earning many more free points from his delivery. Attempting to attack the Australian’s second serve from the outset, he ventured towards the net more often than did his more powerful opponent—and with greater success, a product of his soft hands at the net. After two tense service games, the players settled into a series of comfortable holds during which they lost one or fewer points. When Berankis fired a forehand long on a break point at 4-4, though, he did not allow the missed opportunity to unravel him. Breaking comfortably in the eleventh game behind some odd unforced errors from Matosevic, he wasted little time in closing out the first set with timely first serves and then a massive backhand down the line.
As for the Los Angeles sixth seed, he oscillated unpredictably before the impressive and the disastrous throughout the set. After a running passing shot or brilliant backhand winner from outside the doubles alley, he often would slam a smash into the net or donate a drop shot that bounced before it reached the net. Unfortunately for him, the errors rather than the winners multiplied as the match progressed, and perhaps he should have felt fortunate to have survived as deep into the first set as he did. From start to finish, he never earned a break point, and only once after the Lithuanian’s first service game did he even earn the miniature opportunity of deuce. The suffocating dominance of Berankis on serve subjected Matosevic to extreme pressure on his own service games, and this pressure appeared to fluster him by the start of the second set. Possessing an odd service motion reminiscent of Fernando Gonzalez, the Australian lost the timing on his groundstrokes and started spraying balls beyond the baseline early in rallies. Sagging in spirits, he sometimes muttered to himself between points, whereas Berankis stayed calmly focused across the net. For those reasons, the second set ended in predictable, uneventful fashion with Matosevic securing just a single game.
Clearly thrilled to win his first career ATP semifinal, Berankis becomes the first man from Lithuania to reach an ATP final. He will face the winner of the night semifinal between Rajeev Ram and Sam Querrey tomorrow afternoon. Although Querrey, if he advances, should be considered the heavy favorite, the Lithuanian’s impressive return of serve and unruffled mentality as the underdog could prove dangerous weapons in a title tilt against the former champion. As most top stars converged on the Olympics in London this weekend, Berankis could win sporting laurels for his nation in a meaningful way of his own.