American Donald Young reached the first ATP semi-final of his career on Friday by eliminating seventh-seeded Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) at the $1.4 million ATP Washington Classic.
Young, a 22-year-old left-hander whose only prior ATP quarter-final came in 2008 at Memphis, advanced to a Saturday matchup with Czech Radek Stepanek, who ousted Spanish fifth seed Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-4, in the hardcourt event.
"It means the world to me," Young said. "This is the best I have ever done. This is where I want to be more often. Hopefully I can keep playing well at this level."
Big-serving American John Isner downed Serbian third seed Viktor Troicki 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-1 for his 11th win in 12 starts, taking a semi-final spot against either French top seed Gael Monfils or Serbian sixth seed Janko Tipsarevic.
Young, ranked 128th, fought off three break points in the 12th game of the second set, denying Baghdatis with a forehand winner and twice saving when the 2010 Washington runner-up sent a backhand beyond the baseline.
With the tie-breaker deadlocked 4-4, Young hit a forehand that Baghdatis could only tap weakly back into the net, then a leaping overhead smash and lastly a forehand winner for the victory in 87 minutes, thumping his chest with his right hand in celebration.
"I shocked myself," Young said. "I was just doing what I was doing the whole tournament, using my forehand and moving him around a lot."
Young hit 17 winners, 11 from his forehand, and connected on 65 percent of his first serves to only 35 percent for 2010 Washington runner-up Baghdatis, who felt the effects of playing two Thursday matches due to rain on Wednesday.
"I wasn't 100 percent ready, especially mentally," Baghdatis said. "I served really bad. Donald served well, played smart. He knew I was tired. He fought for it, kept the ball on the court. He deserved it."
Former teen prodigy Young, who would jump past his career high of 73rd in the rankings from 2008 if he reaches the final, said years of hard learning are finally paying off in new confidence.
"I actually feel like I can do it," Young said. "I'm not going out there hoping for it. That's a big change. It definitely feels different."
Stepanek, ranked 35 spots below left-hander Verdasco at 54th, never faced a break point in the first set and denied Verdasco on 7-of-8 break chances in the second set to win after one hour and 51 minutes.
"He's crafty, comes to the net - it's going to be tough," Young said. "He is going to put me in a lot of uncomfortable situations."
Stepanek won his first three matches against Verdasco but had lost three in a row to the Spaniard, most recently a first-round Wimbledon five-setter.
"The confidence is growing with every single match," Stepanek said. "I have a good rhythm. Hopefully I can keep that through the weekend."
Isner smacked a backhand volley winner on his third tie-break set point but handed Troicki the lone second-set break to force a third. Isner broke the Serb in the second and fourth games. Troicki broke back in the fifth, only to watch Isner blast a forehand winner by him to break again, then hold for the match.
"I just stuck with it, tried to put more pressure on him and I guess he cracked a little bit," Isner said.