Third time’s a charm: Smith reaches Play-off final
John-Patrick Smith has advanced to the final of the Australian Open 2015 Play-off by beating Ben Mitchell in straight sets on Friday at Melbourne Park.
John-Patrick Smith has overcome the semifinal hurdle at the Australian Open 2015 Play-off by advancing to his first final at the event at Melbourne Park on Friday.
He did so at the expense of fellow Queenslander Ben Mitchell, winning 6-4 6-4 6-4 and preventing the 236th-ranked Mitchell from advancing to his third straight Play-off final.
Having fallen at the semifinal stage in the previous two years – last year to eventual winner Jordan Thompson and in 2012 to Matt Reid – the Queenslander said he was thrilled to be playing off for a coveted Australian Open main draw wildcard on Sunday.
“It’s going to be good to play on a weekend finally,” he said.
“It’d be huge (to win), I don’t want to think about it now because I don’t want to get too relaxed. I just want to go back, recover and just get ready for the next match. But yeah, it would be a great honour to play.”
As if determined to banish the disappointment of the previous two years – Smith revealed earlier this week how “devastating” it felt to return home without a wildcard in his grasp – he was sharp from the outset, breaking in the very first game to claim the ascendancy.
Not long after he had built a set and a break lead, but in the eighth game of the second set errors began to creep into his game. He saved two break points but could not stave off a third – with a wrong-footing backhand winner Mitchell had broken back to level at 4-4, celebrating loudly.
Yet Mitchell was unable to capitalise on his momentum; missing a sitter of a backhand winner opportunity into net that would have made scores 40-15 instead of 30-30, Smith broke straight back with a forehand winner to push ahead 5-4.
He soon owned a two-sets-to-love lead.
A despondent Mitchell surrendered serve in the opening game of the third, several errors proving the culprit.
A racquet, hat and ball all felt the brunt of his frustration, and although he broke back with a running forehand winner to level at 3-3, Smith, in a repeat of the second set, broke back immediately to remain ahead.
Faced with the prospect of serving out the match in the 10th game, Smith didn’t falter, calmly slotting a backhand crosscourt passing shot winner to seal the straight sets victory.
“Serving that set out the sun was right in my eyes; basically the third set I was really struggling with serves, but I was really happy to get through that last game,” he assessed.
“I was just trying to say get the ball toss in the right position and didn’t want to double fault that side. So I was just trying to make a lot of first serves and just trying to keep going forward, which I did well.”
Sunday brings with it the chance to exact revenge on defending champion and fifth seed Thompson, who advanced to the final without hitting a ball after opponent Luke Saville withdrew due to a hamstring injury.
And if Smith can maintain the form that has seen him progress to the Play-off final without the loss of a set, it would stand him in great stead for a major push up the rankings in 2015.
“It’s been a year (in 2014) of what ifs; I’ve had a lot of matches where I’ve served for the match and lost, (had) match points and lost. If it wasn’t for half of those who knows where my ranking would be right now?” he said.
“Obviously I’m going to go out there on Sunday and have a lot of fun, and hope it’s a good match.”
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