Defending champion and No. 3 seed Andy Murray of Scotland rallied from a set and break down in the second set to edge past lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in two hours and 11 minutes on Friday afternoon to advance to the semifinals at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.
The 22-year-old Scot, who is the new No. 2 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after winning the title last week in Montreal, struggled to find his form after breaking to take a 3-2 lead. Following the service break, the 27-year-old Frenchman immediately broke Murray’s serve to level the match at 3-3 before winning three of the next four games to take the opening set, 6-4.
“I knew I had to be aggressive,” said Benneteau, who got in the main draw when Juan Martin del Potro withdrew after the draw was made.
Benneteau, who is currently ranked No. 55, secured an early break in the second set to go ahead 2-0 and looked to have a big edge on Murray, who looked out of sorts on all his shots.
The turning point occurred in the next game when Murray won a thrilling 53-shot rally and quickly broke back to get back on serve. The Scot, who has now won a record 53 matches this season, insisted the 53-shot rally changed the rest of the match.
“Oh, it made a big different,” said Murray, who has won five titles this year in Doha, Rotterdam, Miami, Queen’s Club and Montreal. “I think he was very tired after that rally. I managed to stay strong after that.”
The momentum shifted immediately and it was all Murray from that point on, dropping just two more games en route to victory.
“You know, he’s been around a long time and he’s very experienced and obviously made it very difficult today,” said Murray, who has reached five of the last nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals dating back to his victory in Cincinnati last August.
Murray, who earned his 72nd career win in a Masters 1000 event, smashed seven aces, won 70 percent of first serve points and broke Benneteau’s serve on six of 13 opportunities. Benneteau hit four aces, three double faults, won 59 percent of first serve points and was able to break Murray’s serve three times.
Murray’s semifinal opponent on Saturday afternoon will be world No. 1 Roger Federer, who eased past former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 6-3, 6-4, in 70 minutes.
Federer, who earned his 200th career win at a Masters 1000 event, was in complete control from start to finish, breaking serve once in each set to win convincingly. Federer’s serve was superb, winning 24 of 27 first serve points, smashing 11 aces, while not facing a break point the entire match.
The 15-time Grand Slam singles champion insisted holding serve against Hewitt is an important thing to accomplish during a match with the fiery Aussie.
“I think that definitely helps against Lleyton, who once he gets his teeth into your serve it can get quite tricky,” said Federer, who improved to 9-1 in quarterfinal matches this season.
Hewitt, who reached the finals in Cincinnati in 2002 and 2004, only managed to hit two aces and win 69 percent of his first serve points.
Federer improved to 15-7 against Hewitt, winning the last 13 meetings.
“He’s beaten me so many times in the past that I didn’t expect myself to all of a sudden go on such a great run against him,” said Federer, whose loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last week in Montreal was his first loss since losing at the Masters 1000 in Madrid in May.
In the late match, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain continued his impressive return from a knee tendinitis injury, dispatching Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic, 6-4, 7-5, in one hour and 41 minutes.
Nadal, who has won six Grand Slam singles titles including four French Open titles, was impressive on serve throughout, hitting two aces and winning 35 of 41 first serve points. The 23-year-old Spaniard was also able to break serve twice on six opportunities.
The former world No. 1 will face No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic in the night match on Saturday. Djokovic won his quarterfinal match by defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to his second straight semifinal in Cincinnati.