LONDON (Reuters) - Feliciano Lopez and Gilles Simon struck a blow for the old guard as they both held off two of the sport’s most exciting young hustlers to reach the Queen’s Club final on Saturday.
First Frenchman Simon, 34, ground down 23-year-old Russian fourth seed Daniil Medvedev 6-7(4) 6-4 6-3 in baseline war of attrition, then 37-year-old Lopez used his vast experience to down 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7(3) 6-3 6-4.
Left-handed Spaniard Lopez, who has slipped to 113th in the rankings and required a wildcard, is the oldest player to reach the Queen’s final having won the tournament two years ago.
Simon will be aiming to become the first Frenchman to triumph at the prestigious grasscourt event.
Lopez will also co-star in the doubles final with five-times singles champion Andy Murray, delighting crowds on his return from hip surgery, they beat third seeds Henri Kontinen and John Peers at the end of a marathon afternoon at the London club.
In contrasting singles semi-finals both Lopez and Simon proved that it is not just the golden trio of 30 somethings — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — that an impatient next generation must barge aside.
The first was full of interminable rallies regularly surpassing 30 strokes as Simon and Medvedev dug trenches on the baseline while second featured the old-school serve-and-volley of Lopez against the silky hitting of world number 21 Auger-Aliassime who had picked off Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas this week.
After requiring three hours 20 minutes to get past compatriot Nicolas Mahut on Friday — the longest match at Queen’s since 1991 — it was surprising to see Simon outlast a player 11 years his junior.
“I put the ball in the court. That’s what I do. And I do it for long,” Simon told reporters.
With similar styles, both players traded groundstrokes waiting for openings that rarely materialised.
Medvedev won a 45-stroke rally to move 5-3 ahead in the tiebreak on his way to taking the opener.
Simon, having levelled the match, then saved a break point at 1-1 in the decider, this time catching the baseline with a backhand to end a hypnotic 49-stroke exchange.
Medvedev, clutching his back and leaning on his racket at times, looked a spent force and a double-fault cost him his serve at 3-4. Simon sealed victory in emphatic style to become the first French finalist here since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011.
Auger-Aliassime has rocketed up the rankings this year from outside the top 100 and was aiming to become the youngest finalist here since 17-year-old Boris Becker in 1985.
His clash with Lopez was featured the largest age difference in an ATP Tour semi-final since 1977 and when he calmly took a first-set tiebreak it seemed the zest of youth would prevail.
He had not dropped a service game in the tournament and he banged down 14 aces in the first set.
Lopez was wobbling and had Auger-Aliassime converted the break point he had in the first game of the second set he surely would have cruised into the final on his tournament debut.
But he dropped serve for the first time in 44 service games when he hit a forehand long in the next game and for the first time all week his focussed slipped.
Lopez saved a break point with a dinked angled volley at the start of the third and his young opponent, playing his fourth match in three days, began to wilt.
He dropped serve sloppily at 2-2 and faced four match points when he served at 3-5, but hung on grimly to test Lopez’s nerve.
The Spaniard calmly held, however, to win the match before a quick pause for breath and resuming doubles duty with Murray.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Tony Lawrence and Ed Osmond