Facing two straight match points in the first round of the Astana Open on Thursday, Jurij Rodionov wanted to hit aces against Gregoire Barrere.
The left-handed qualifier not only pulled it off at 4-5 in the third set, but did so going against his preferred serving patterns.
“At that point I felt he was stronger than me from the baseline, so I wanted to avoid the rallies as much as possible, and I was just going for it,” said the Austrian. “I went out wide on the deuce side and down the tee on the ad-side, which are my least favourite serves.
“Usually I use the lefty advantage, but I went against that and surprised him.”
Rodionov edged a third-set tie-break, then upset second seed Sebastian Baez in straight sets on Friday for a place in his second career ATP Tour quarter-final.
In the first one, on grass in Stuttgart in 2021, he also saved a match point against Alex de Minaur en route to the semi-finals.
“Maybe it's a pattern,” Rodionov said.
Judging by his past performances, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that the 24-year-old is flourishing in Kazakhstan. His maiden title on the ATP Challenger Tour came as a qualifier in Almaty in 2018 and a month later, Rodionov found himself in the semi-finals of a Challenger in Astana.
In 2021, Rodionov landed in the final of yet another Challenger in Astana. He likes the people and atmosphere in Kazakhstan, while speaking the language puts him at ease.
“Maybe I got a bit lucky winning my first Challenger in Almaty,” he said. “And since then, I think you can say it's my lucky charm.”
Rodionov knew that victory over Baez would lift him beyond the career-best No. 100 achieved in late August in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and was pleased it didn't hinder his performance.
The former junior World No. 7's rise means he is getting ever closer to a direct berth into January's Australian Open, where he has never competed in the main draw. Defeating 2020 Astana finalist and fellow lefty Adrian Mannarino on Sunday would boost Rodionov's prospects even further. The Austrian notched his first Top 50 win against the Frenchman at a Challenger in Rennes in 2019.
“Honestly, I don't really like playing against lefties because it's very uncomfortable,” said Rodionov, despite winning nine of his last 10 matches versus left-handers.
Overall he calls this season his best so far, despite some “ups and downs”. Even when those ‘downs' occur — Rodionov had lost six of seven matches entering Astana — his mantra is to “just hang in there.”
“Never give up, try to improve day by day and always try to be positive because no matter how bad things look, there is always going to be a way out,” he said. “Just try to do the best you can.”
An Austrian semi-finalist is guaranteed in Astana, where Dominic Thiem plays Sebastian Ofner in the other quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw. It marks the first time that three Austrians have reached the last eight of the same ATP Tour event.
Former World No. 3 Thiem holds a 3-0 record against Ofner, having beaten him most recently in three sets on clay at this year's Millennium Estoril Open.
“I'm looking forward to it, because I think he is playing better right now,” Ofner said. “I'm also in good shape.”
Top-seed Tallon Griekspoor challenges fifth-seed Sebastian Korda, with fourth-seed Jiri Lehecka encountering 20-year-old wild card Hamad Medjedovic at Kazakhstan's National Tennis Center. Both are first-time meetings.