"What just happened out there?”
Those were the first words out of Ernesto Escobedo’s mouth after walking into the media center following his three hour, three set victory over former U.S. Men’s Clay Court champion John Isner.
The 20-year-old took to Center Court Friday morning for just his third ATP main draw match on clay, and walked off the victor, 7-6(6) 6-7(6) 7-6(5). This marked the fifth three tie-break match at the tournament in the Open Era, and the third consecutive involving Isner.
The wild card fended off 35 aces from the No.2 seed, a new tournament single-match record, during their three hour encounter.
The victory sees Escobedo through to his first ATP World Tour semifinal. Awaiting him is Thomaz Bellucci.
The Brazilian scored his first career win over No.3 seed Sam Querrey 6-4 3-6 6-3, needing nearly two hours to do so.
“I think it was my best match this week,” said Bellucci, who becomes the first player to reach the semifinals at the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship having won three 3-setters since Sebastien Grosjean in 2005.
Their semifinal meeting Saturday will be Escobedo and Bellucci’s first-ever encounter.
No.4 seed Steve Johnson downed 2014 champion Fernando Verdasco 6-2 6-4 to book a spot in his first semifinal at River Oaks in five attempts.
The American entered the match trailing the Spaniard 0-4 in their head-to-head, but didn’t let that enter his mind during their quarterfinal collision.
“I found my footing great today,” said Johnson. “I did most of the dictating, which was ideal for me.”
The California native is through to his second semifinal of 2017 and will face a familiar foe, countryman Jack Sock. The pair have met twice already this year, with Sock winning both encounters.
The top seed scored a win over two-time semifinalist Feliciano Lopez, though it didn’t come easy. The pair exchanged nine breaks in their two hour, thirteen minute long 7-6(6) 1-6 6-4 meeting.
The win is Sock’s 20th of 2017, moving him past Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who both have 19 match-wins on the year. The 24-year-old improves to 13-3 at River Oaks and secures a spot in the semifinals at River Oaks for a third consecutive year.
This is the fifth time three Americans have reached the U.S. Clay semifinals in the Open Era, and the first time since 2002 when Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Pete Sampras were among the final four.