LONDON: Feliciano Lopez won the Queen’s Club title in dramatic fashion as the Spaniard saved a match point before defeating Marin Cilic 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (10/8) on Sunday.
Trailing by a set to the big-serving Cilic, Lopez held his nerve in a gripping finale to overwhelm the world number seven and secure his first ATP title since Gstaad in July 2016.
It was a sweet moment for world number 32 Lopez, who held a championship point in the 2014 Queen’s final before losing in three sets to Grigor Dimitrov.
The 35-year-old avenged that painful loss by beating Dimitrov in the semi-finals on Saturday and now he has his hands on the trophy at last.
It is Lopez’s third title on grass after winning Eastbourne in 2013 and 2014, earning him a cheque for 395,690 euros (US$442,915).
“Wow. I can’t believe I finally won this trophy. I’ve been waiting so long,” Lopez said.
“I thought until the end that I wouldn’t make it, but I was a little bit lucky and it went my way.
“It was so difficult to handle my nerves when I was serving for the match.”
Having reached the Stuttgart final last week before losing to Lucas Pouille, Lopez has now won nine of his 10 matches on grass this year, raising hopes of a strong run at Wimbledon, which gets underway on July 3.
“It’s hard to believe I’m playing my best tennis at 35, but yes I am,” he said.
“There’s no better situation than to go into Wimbledon after winning here.”
It was a frustrating defeat for former US Open champion Cilic, who came agonisingly close to adding a second Queen’s title to the one he won in 2012.
His blistering serve had been virtually unplayable over the last week and, in four matches en route to the final, he was broken just once.
Lopez couldn’t find a way to break him in the final, but the Spaniard came up trumps in the crucial tie-breaks.
When Lopez earned the first break point in the seventh game, Cilic responded in familiar fashion, hammering down a thunderous ace.
Energised by that escape, Cilic turned up the pressure on Lopez with some crunching returns.
Lopez cracked at 4-5, firing a forehand wide on break point to hand Cilic the first set.
Yet Cilic couldn’t press home his advantage in the second set.
Lopez was able to force a tie-break, which he won thanks to a rock solid serve and a string of costly errors from the Croatian.
Having lost the 2013 Queen’s final against Andy Murray after blowing a one-set lead, it was little surprise Cilic looked concerned heading into the decider.
With neither player letting their serve falter, it took a tie-break to decide the champion and Cilic’s fears came true.
In a thrilling denouement, Lopez saved a match point with a lunging volley, then watched as Cilic fired a blistering ace and then a nerveless volley to deny him on two match points.
Lopez refused to buckle and he finally got over the finish line when Cilic sent a forehand wide.--AFP