Michael Russell only needed to drive down the road from his house to reach a tennis milestone that had so far eluded him. The Houston resident defeated fellow American and Austin resident Ryan Harrison, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, on Saturday at the US Men’s Clay Court Championships and made his way to the very first ATP semifinal in his 14 year career. At 33-years old, Russell is the eldest player to reach an ATP semifinal this year.
“It was only a couple years ago when I made my first ATP quarterfinal,” said Russell. “I’d play good matches against top guys at Grand Slams or I’d qualify for Master Series events and win a match, maybe, but I found myself losing in the second round a lot. It was like a mental block. Maybe all those years have helped me be a little calmer.”
The victory over World No. 65 Harrison was the latest feat in what has shaped up to be the best week of the 136th ranked Russell’s career. Needing to qualify to make the main draw at River Oaks, he upset top seed and World No. 9 Mardy Fish on Saturday for his first ever win over a Top 10 player, then withstood a furious charge by Harrison in the second set, including a break at love by the 19-year old to clich it, before coming back to break Harrison twice and win the third.
Russell’s opponent in Saturday’s semifinal will be Argentina’s Juan Monaco, who gritted out a win over Kevin Anderson of South Africa, 7-6(4) 7-5. Houston marks Monaco’s second consecutive ATP semifinal appearance after a deep run at the Miami Masters two weeks ago, and the victory improves his clay record to 9-2.
One of those clay wins came just last weekend as he flew from Miami to his home country for a successful Davis Cup tie against Croatia before boomeranging back to the United States before his Thursday match in Houston.
“I’m not feeling too fresh,” said Monaco. “I knew from the beginning that I would have to play many days in a row to win here, so I have to just play. I have time to recover and try to play well tomorrow.”
Russell and Monaco have played one previous time, a third round encounter five years ago in Poertschach, Austria. In that match Russell only managed to win a total of four games.