LONDON (Reuters) - Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez helped banish the memory of one of his most painful defeats when he beat Grigor Dimitrov to set up an Aegon Championships final against Marin Cilic on Saturday.
Three years after failing to convert a match point in the Queen’s Club title match against the Bulgarian, the 35-year-old left-hander avenged that loss with a 7-5 3-6 6-2 victory.
If he is not to fall short for a second time, however, he will have to produce his best tennis again a fired-up Cilic who overcame Luxembourg’s in-form Gilles Muller.
Fourth seed Cilic, bidding for a repeat of the title he won in 2012, dropped serve for the first time all week but recovered quickly to win 6-3 5-7 6-4, ending veteran Muller’s seven-match winning streak on grass.
Lopez capitalised on a run of Dimitrov errors at 5-5 in the first set to break before holding serve with ease.
A rain delay midway through the second set broke his rhythm though and sixth seed Dimitrov seized his chance to level.
Lopez was comfortably the better player in the decider, though, as he moved through to the final.
”It’s a gift to be in this final again,“ Lopez, who looked close to tears at the end, told reporters. ”I think the first set was the best I’ve played all week.
”You can imagine how important it is for me to be in the finals of Queen’s at this stage of my career. It is one of the tournaments I love. I was dreaming to play.
“When I was younger I was watching Queen’s all the time, and it’s one of those tournaments that you always want to play.”
Lopez, Cilic and Muller had all reached the semi-finals without dropping serve, so it was a surprise when Cilic began to read Muller’s swinging delivery early on and broke in the fifth game of the day’s first semi-final.
Cilic wrapped up the opening set quickly and had he converted break points in the third or seventh games of the second set he would have spared himself any undue stress.
Instead, one lapse of concentration at 5-6 blotted his copybook to allow Muller to snatch the second set.
It was nothing more than an inconvenience, though, as Croatian Cilic broke in the seventh game of the decider and powered to victory, sealing it with a second-serve ace.
Cilic, set to move to a career-high ranking of six, will now have the chance to win the title in more orthodox fashion than in 2012 when his opponent, Argentina’s David Nalbandian, was defaulted for injuring the leg of a line judge when kicking out at a hoarding in anger.
“A title is a title,” he joked. “They still say 17 titles. They don’t say 16 and a half. But it’s great to be back in the final for a third time, playing great tennis.”
The one worry for the Croatian is that his doubles semi-final in which he was partnering Marcin Matkowski against Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares was not finished because of rain, meaning he faces a busy schedule on Sunday.
In the form he is in, though, it will be hard to drag him off court.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond