Here are the ATP Lyon Semifinalists: Who is Ready to Lift the Trophy?

Holger Rune, a champion on the ATP Challenger Tour, in action.
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The semifinalists of the ATP Lyon 250 are set, featuring veterans Alex de Minaur and Cameron Norrie (with eight titles between them) vs rising challengers Alex Molcan and Holger Rune. Norrie and de Minaur are holding steady at the boundaries of the Top 10 and Top 20 respectively, while Rune and Molcan are at their career highs and rising. How do these matchups look, and who has the advantages to move on to the finals? We break down the matches below.

ATP Lyon Semifinalists

Alex de Minaur vs Alex Molcan

Molcan has come through a decent draw here, defeating Karen Khachanov and Federico Coria after dispatching an ailing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. De Minaur has had a much easier ride, moving on from a first round bye to a clash with a big-slumping Ugo Humbert, and then on to Yosuke Watanuki, a 263-ranked player who retired after losing the first set. So are we impressed with Molcan’s level of play, or do we lean toward de Minaur as the more rested? Both should be geared up well for a good match.

Similar Players Similarly Improving

The Alexes are fairly similar in playing style, and the division in their rankings (26 places in favor of the Aussie) feels about the right difference in degree of skill at the moment. De Minaur is by far the more experienced player on tour, but Molcan feels comfortable on the clay while it has historically been de Minaur’s least favorite surface (though he has improved this year).

Molcan has not been highly impressive just yet, but he must be considered one of the most improved players on tour, having risen from outside the top 250 at this time last year to his career high of #46 last month. He has disarming athleticism, though he is not flashy with it, and plays quiet defense with good mobility and quickness, and without seeming to mind going on the attack as he sees need.

De Minaur has a similar playing style, but balanced more toward the offensive, with a willingness to play defense and chase everything down. He doesn’t have quite the easy athleticism of Molcan, but he puts out more energy. He is the best retriever on tour this side of Gael Monfils, but the trick, of course, is to just hit it past him—something the smallish Molcan may have trouble doing.

But the other side of the coin is the same, which is the retrieving skill of the mobile Molcan, past whom de Minaur may find it hard to hit. With the soft bounce and the longer rallies of clay, this match may turn into an endurance test. It should draw plenty of scrambles from both players, with each trying to work his forehand against the other’s backhand. Their strokes are similar (although Molcan’s are smoother), and neither would seem to have an advantage here.

Serve Favors Lefty

The serve shouldn’t yield too many points for either, except that Molcan has the lefty advantage. Is it much of an advantage against someone with the retrieving skills of de Minaur, though? He will be pushed out wide from the ad court but will reset about as well as anyone, or sprint across the whole court to pick up a drop shot off a deep return (a la Monfils). Each has a slice out wide to the other’s backhand that they will likely employ in just such a tactic, one from the deuce and one from the ad, and the slight advantage goes to the lefty as the ad court tends to feature more game points.

Key to the Match

Despite rising in the rankings, Molcan has not particularly impressed this year, except in a finals run at Marrakech where he went through Felix Auger-Aliassime. That tournament and that match look like outliers, and he has not played well since. De Minaur has had a decent season, which includes improvement on clay and some decent wins recently, most notably against Cam Norrie in the quarterfinals of Barcelona. The same tournament saw him push Carlos Alcaraz to the brink, in three sets with two tiebreaks, a strong sign of his growing competence on clay.

The key to this match may be the ability to stay patient. Each will be playing a game of defense and retrieving, which can frustrate the opponent into over-reaching for winners. I see de Minaur’s experience at this level giving him the edge in that department, and I like his recent wins against Cam Norrie and Pedro Martinez as indicative of his ability to play long-haul tennis. Molcan will have to be sharp to push past the wall of defense. I expect decent rallies, more attacking from de Minaur, and a few more mistakes from the forehand of Molcan. De Minaur is looking like he could pick up his first clay title.

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Cameron Norrie vs Holger Rune

Speaking of most improved players…

Holger Rune, at this time last year, was outside the top 300! He now sits at #40. His season, however, does not quite match up to the glory of that stat. Undoubtedly his best showing was just a few weeks ago in Munich, where he won the tournament, and defeated Alexander Zverev on the way. I am inclined to think that he is not quite at the level that those accomplishments would suggest, however, as the final ended in retirement from Botic van de Zandschulp, and Zverev is the top player most likely to have inexplicable lower-level defeats. Rune is definitely improving, and has plenty of time at 19, but this is not an Alcarazian rise just yet.

Meanwhile, Cam Norrie is marching through a decent season that includes one title and another final. His style contrasts with Rune, which should make for an interesting match. Norrie is primarily a defensive player who is risk-averse and efficient, while the young Dane is high-energy and offensive. Rune will be looking to move Norrie around the court and push the ball through with power, especially off the forehand, while Norrie will try to maintain defensive efficiency and draw mistakes from the newbie.

Return of the Drop Shot

One factor in determining the outcome could be Rune’s use of the drop shot. We’re seeing this shot quite a bit from some of the younger players (Rune, Alcaraz, Gaston), and one wonders why it took so long to see its reappearance. Rune uses it effectively to augment his baseline power (a la Alcaraz), and it can be an effective strategy. Norrie moves well, and is not the ideal victim for a drop shot, but it will likely depend on whether Rune can control it skillfully enough.

Both players have fairly big serves, and Norrie of course has the lefty advantage. Rune moves well and reacts quickly, and the biggest opening on serve is probably Rune serving to Norrie’s backhand, which is a bit stiff and doesn’t have a lot of power. Heavy serves to that side could break it down, and weak returns should offer Rune the chance for a putaway.

Norrie’s Defense vs Rune’s Attack

Norrie is certainly the more reliable of the two players right now, but Rune has a lot of positive qualities and is regularly improving. If he plays as he did against Zverev, he can move on to the final. Norrie is seeking his tenth finals appearance, and his third of the season, and should have a very calm head, and will likely look to push his young opponent into mistakes through solid counterpunching in a way that Zverev doesn’t do. I expect that to be the outcome, but Rune is a streaky player who appears to be on at the moment, and the shot-making version of his high-energy offense could power him past Norrie into the final.

Main Photo from Getty.