Top seed Bernabe Zapata Miralles found himself 1-6 1-4 15-40 down on serve against Dmitry Popko and almost out of the tournament. The Spaniard was visibly frustrated as his attempts to hit through his opponent saw him driving more balls straight into the back fence than past the Kazakh for winners.
Understandably enough, the 24-year-old’s summary of the match to that point – “I [felt] bad during the match, I’m not happy with my game.”
But, seemingly out of nowhere, Zapata Miralles started to land some improbable forehand winners to stick around in the second set. He also used drop shots more and more often to counteract the Kazakh’s counter-punching style and flat backhand. Under pressure for the first time in the match, Popko’s level dropped and having had one foot in his second Challenger Tour final, the Kazakh was unable to hold off Zapata Miralles’ attacks as consistently.
After levelling the match in the second set, the momentum appeared to have shifted decisively in the Spaniard’s favour. By the time he had broken twice in the decider to take a 5-2 lead, Zapata Miralles looked certain to progress safely into the final.
However, Popko’s style of play makes his matches very physical and that took a toll on Zapata Miralles. The top seed wasted two match points and, in his determination to finish the match, he overhit enough to allow the Kazakh back into the match.
But the last act contained yet another twist as, despite breathing very heavily, Zapata Miralles managed to string together a few great points to break Popko at the death and take the match 7-5.
“I need to change my mentality, I’m still fighting, okay, but I need to change my mentality”, the Spaniard said, referring to his rather theatrical rants during the three-set thriller. Zapata Miralles often loosed screams and talked very loudly in his native language between points, many times mentioning that he did not want to be on the court anymore.
The 24-year-old was clearly dissatisfied with his performance, despite the positive outcome – “If I play like this tomorrow, I will lose in 20 minutes”. That may well be an accurate assessment as in the final he’ll face Jiri Lehecka, a player currently riding a nine-match winning streak after winning the title in Tampere last week.
Indeed, although his opponent is just 19-years-old, Zapata Miralles recognizes his class and isn’t going to underestimate him – “Tough match. I need to stay fast with the legs and stay on the point, because he’s [a] good player and he’s got good confidence for tomorrow”.
Lehecka has also won his last seven matches in doubles, a streak that includes his run to the title at the Poznan Open title with Zdenek Kolar. The Czech pair defeated Karol Drzewiecki and Aleksandar Vukic 6-4 3-6 10-5 on Saturday.
That does mean that the 19-year-old has a lot more matches in his legs than Zapata Miralles in the past fortnight, but he has managed to avoid marathons in singles this week, defeating every opponent without losing a single set. Lehecka’s semifinal win over Alexander Shevchenko took him just 73 minutes.
In contrast, the Spaniard spent more than two-and-a-half hours on court defeating Popko and Zapata Miralles has been far from stellar all week. He dropped a set to Mats Moraing in the second round and was taken to a tiebreak by Alexandre Muller in the second set of their quarterfinal. To defeat the fast-rising young Czech tomorrow, he really will need to up his game.
Main photo from Paweł Rychter/Poznań Open 2021.