Great Britain's James Ward and Australian James Duckworth won their semifinal matches in straight sets Saturday in the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships and will face each other Sunday for the second year in a row.
On the women's side, it was cause for celebration for 21-year-old American Nicole Gibbs, who in addition to winning her semifinal match against Irina Falconi, 7-5, 6-2, also got news she would receive the USTA Pro Circuit wild card into the U.S. Open main draw. The second-leading contender, Melanie Oudin, was knocked out by the third-leading contender, Madison Brengle, in their semifinal, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
The seventh-seeded Gibbs, a former Stanford standout ranked 167, gained the momentum she needed in the first set with a break point at 6-5.
"I mean she's a tricky player to get used to out there," she said of Falconi, who is ranked 163. "She plays a very different game style. She has a lot of finesse, uses her drop shot insights really well, but she also hits through the ball so you're constantly off balance."
Never miss a local story.
Gibbs will face Brengle at 1 p.m. on Sunday after the No. 2 seed defeated Oudin, who was slow to get going in the first set. The 2008 U.S. Open quarterfinalist had trouble keeping the ball in play as Brengle chased down everything that was in play.
"She stepped it up the second set and stopped making as many errors," Brengle said. "She started nailing shots on the baseline that were hard to get back. The third set, I made it a point to get more on my balls to get them deeper so she couldn't hit those kinds of shots.
Oudin, ranked 156, said she was very disappointed.
"I was controlling the points but missing that last ball and you're just not going to win matches that way," she said.
In the men's semifinals, Ward's strong serves kept American challenger Wayne Odesnik on his heels throughout the match. Ward, the No. 5 seed, took the match 6-3, 6-3.
Ward and Odesnik have faced each other three times since meeting in the 2011 Lexington finals, with Odesnik winning two of those matches, all on hard court. Ward, who is ranked 150, said after Saturday's match he had a strategy to beat Odesnik and stuck diligently to the plan. The elements of his strategy he wouldn't divulge, however.
"I might have to play him again this year, so I'd better keep that to myself," Ward said. "He's tough, and you know you're going to have to play long rallies. He places the ball well because he's a lefty."
A key factor in Ward's victory was his big serve, which delivered seven aces on critical points and gave him winning points on 83 percent of his first serves. Odesnik had only one ace and got points off 61 percent of his first serves.
"I have been serving better every day of this tournament," Ward said. "You serve well at the right time, that's a big advantage."
Duckworth, 22, the No. 4 seed, defeated 18-year-old wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis 7-6 (2), 6-3 to advance to the finals.
Ward beat Duckworth in last year's Lexington Challenger finalsh, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. When asked about facing Ward again in the finals, Duckworth, ranked 164, said "I am a better player this year" and plans to "take it to him."
Great Britian's Jocelyn Rae and Anna Smith defeated Shuko Aoyama and Keri Wong, 6-4, 6-4, to take the women's doubles title
Canadians Peter Polansky and Adil Shamasdin defeated American Chase Buchanan and Ireland's James McGee, 6-4, 6-2, to claim the men's doubles title.