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Big-serving Lopez signs off UTS with convincing win over Benchetrit

Feliciano Lopez, “El Torero” finished off his UTS experience in style on Saturday as he beat Frenchman Elliot Benchetrit, “The Underdog” 3-1 thanks to another breathtaking serving display.

Feliciano Lopez, UTS 2020 Feliciano Lopez, UTS 2020

The 38-year-old won almost all of the most important points to seal his fourth victory in nine matches, 16-13, 14-11, 14-13, 11-16 and clinch fifth spot in the first edition of the innovative event in the south of France.

World No 208 Benchetrit more than played his part in an entertaining clash but it was the wiles of Lopez, as well as the left-hander’s incredible serve, that saw him over the line, a sweet feeling having lost three matches in sudden death.

Neither man could qualify for the Final 4 but though both were keen to go out in style, the match was also played in great spirit, with Benchetrit giving Lopez a point early on after an ace by the Spaniard was ruled out, incorrectly, by the umpire.

The quarter was nip and tuck all the way through, each man picking up three points for one of their UTS cards with equally good aces.

Stunning returns

With one minute, 55 seconds on the clock and no cards left for either man, it was level at 12-12, but at 13-13, Lopez came up with two stunning returns to move ahead, finishing it off with a drop serve as the Frenchman gave it up.

“(It was) animal instinct,” Lopez said, of his returns. “No, I was guessing, for sure. The last two returns were great. There’s still gas in the tank.”

Benchetrit teased the commentators for not leaving him much time to chat. “Every time one minute 15 for my opponents. It’s not really fair guys. Come on, he said. They were unbelievable returns. I was playing one of my best on the UTS. I need to keep going.”

Lopez’s serve keeps him on top

Benchetrit, ranked 208, began the second quarter well and at 5-3, he looked to press home his advantage by using his winner x 3 card. But Lopez won both points, and then played a delicious drop shot, lob combination.

The Spaniard led 9-5 but Benchetrit held two points on his serve, then used his steal serve card well to level at 9-9. A coaching timeout for the Frenchman saw his coach suggest keeping the rallies going, but with 1.55 minutes on the clock, Lopez went for his winner x 3 card.

A double-fault on the first one didn’t help his cause but yet another pinpoint T serve for an ace secured the three points and a two-point lead at 12-10.

Benchetrit cut the gap to one but then missed a crucial forehand volley and with a two-point lead in hand, Lopez finished it off with a big serve.

“This time, especially, I was thinking about this, going down the T and I was very lucky I was able to do this ace at this time. My heartbeat is a little high but it’s OK.”

There was nothing to choose between the two men again in the third quarter as they reached 7-7. Lopez used the steal serve card well to go ahead but Benchetrit came up with an ace on his winner x 3 card to lead 11-9.

But Lopez then found yet another incredible backhand winner off the return to get within one and then at 10-12, he won both points to level, although he did not get the value of the winner x 3 card.

Experience shows

The experience of Lopez showed as he chipped and charged on the Benchetrit serve, forcing the Frenchman to come up with a pass, which he couldn’t. But Benchetrit found a big serve to make it 13-13, forcing a deciding point. Yet again, though, on the biggest points, it was Lopez who made it count and another ace down the T sealed the win.

Having lost so many close encounters throughout the UTS, the victory was sweet for Lopez, even if he wished he’d won a couple of his earlier battles instead.

“The difference is I’m doing it when it doesn’t count, because I have no chance to qualify for the Finals,” he said.. “Also, when you’re two quarters to love, you feel more confidence than you’re going for a big serve.

Benchetrit was pleased with his performance but the biggest points didn’t go his way. “Again, on the important points, the last serve was 2mm inside the line,” he said. “So many important points, he won. It was really hard, really close.”

The Underdog picked up some consolation as he won the fourth quarter 16-11 to end the UTS with a 3-3 record.

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