Finnish victory catapults Ernests into first career final
Nine aces and – believe it or not – a cool head under pressure helped Ernests to overcome a stubborn opponent and a three-hour rain delay before securing a spot in his first-ever ATP final in Delray Beach.
With two ATP doubles titles under his belt, Ernests is no stranger to the business end of a tournament.
However, this is the first time that he is there on a singles ticket, where the pressure not only is more intense but also has to be shouldered alone.
In the semi-final against Jarkko Niemimen, Ernests looked quietly confident all match long.
He broke Nieminen in the third game of the first set and staved off a reciprocal break point in the next game with an ace on second serve.
An early break on the Finn’s serve in the second set looked to seal the deal for Ernests, but he did not count on being broken in the sixth game after double-faulting at break point.
The increasingly blustery wind fuelled his frustrations and he looked in danger of self-destructing as Nieminen pulled ahead after holding serve for 4:3.
However, Ernests collected himself in time and forced a break on Nieminen’s serve two games later with some powerful backcourt hitting, taking the score to 5:4 in Ernests’ favour.
With only a service hold standing between him and his first Tour-level final, the aggravating weather finally dealt the ace up its sleeve, delivering heavy rain which halted play for three hours.
Players with less steely resolve than Ernests today probably would have crumbled during the lengthy delay, losing momentum and pysching themselves out with endless what-ifs.
That scenario came precariously close to reality as Ernests returned to court only to lose the first point of the game after dumping a forehand into the net.
However, Ernests was determined not to be denied this time around and raced to 40*-15 with two imperious overhead winners.
With two match points on his racquet, Ernests deemed that he had been out in the cold long enough and wrapped up business briskly with a thunderous ace.
He earned 150 ranking points just by reaching the final – shooting him into somewhere in the Top 60 – and looks to add another 100 points should he emerge triumphant on Sunday.
His opponent in the final will be either the defending champion, Mardy Fish, or the big-serving Ivo Karlovic.
Ernests has never played against either men before and will hope to strike the first blow tomorrow in what is slowly but surely becoming the best spring of Ernests’ career so far.