David Goffin was the first of the trio to progress, though he found himself in a dogfight against Dutchman Robin Haase that lasted two and a quarter hours and three sets. They produced, at times, some sparkling tennis, full of angle, penetration, drop-shot and lob, but the light, quick footwork and superior precision of the No3 seed from Belgium won the day, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Which was, it might be said, a good result for the tournament even with the loss of the last home player in the singles draw. For as day turned to evening, it was the turn of Grigor Dimitrov to turn on the style, as he has been doing all season.
The classy 25-year-old began the year ranked No17, up from a struggling 40 just five months before, but the confidence has oozed from Dimitrov since he launched into 2017 with superb fitness, sharpened focus, and a growing self-belief. With two titles—Brisbane and Sofia—plus a semi run at the Australian Open, where he came within touching distance of beating Rafael Nadal, plus wins over the likes of Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, he is up to 12 in the rankings with the chance to break into the top 10 if he makes another final run.
2017 added up to a 15-1 winning record for Dimitrov, and that was about to become 16-1 as he sailed passed Denis Istomin in an hour and half, 7-6, 6-1, to set a highly anticipated replay of his Sofia final against Goffin.
Dimitrov has cause to remember Rotterdam with affection: He won his very first main-tour match in the Dutch city in 2009, and made the semis in 2013 just as he was about to begin his first surge to the top 10. With three wins over Goffin to his name already, and in his current form, the Bulgarian could have another reason to depart Rotterdam with great memories come Sunday.
However, to reach the final, Dimitrov will have not only to beat Goffin but also another 90s man. The prime mover is No2 seed Dominic Thiem, who also has good reason to like Rotterdam. It was here, in 2014, still age just 20 and ranked 113, that the young Austrian made such an impression in his debut, coming through qualifying to reach Round 2, where he won the first set against Andy Murray in a powerful statement of just how good his tennis would become.
Now with seven titles and the experience of the World Tour Finals under his belt, he was starting to turn around a recent lapse in form, beat the dangerous Sascha Zverev in his three-set opener, and then beat the equally dangerous Gilles Simon in an hour and half, 6-4, 7-6.
And keeping this half of the draw exclusively to the 90s men, Thiem will now face the 25-year-old French qualifier, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who may have little singles form to his name but stands at the top of the doubles rankings with partner Nicolas Mahut.
So much for the rising generation packing out the bottom half of the draw. However the top half could not be more different.
No1 seed Marin Cilic is not only a former Grand Slam champion but a former finalist in Rotterdam. And though he is 18 months shy of his 30th birthday, he has 16 titles to his name, is fast approaching his 400th match-win, and scored his 364th against the next generation of Croatian talent, Borna Coric, in three sets, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.
He next plays the 31-year-old Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, himself a former Grand Slam finalist and a former Rotterdam finalist in 2011, and like Cilic he is closing on his 400th match-win. He showed a clean pair of heels to Gilles Muller in the second round, but has lost to Cilic five times in six meetings, including in Rotterdam in 2014.
Cilic or Tsonga will face either Tomas Berdych or Martin Klizan, both of whom have cause to be optimistic about their chances of making the semis and beyond.
No4 seed Berdych is now 31, and actually closer to his 600th match-win than his 400th: He scored No588 over Richard Gasquet, 7-6(4), 6-1.
The big Czech man, who won the Rotterdam title in 2014 and was runner-up in 2015, has had some lean months after missing the US Open with appendicitis, but 2017 has brought back some winning ways with a semi run in Doha, the third round in Australia before facing a red-hot Roger Federer, and an impressive performance on centre court at the Ahoy arena today.
He now has to take on the defending champion for a place in the semis. Klizan, at 27 the youngest in this quartet, is ranked just 73 and thus unseeded—but then he was also unseeded last year. As a result, he has faced two tough higher-ranked opponents, Fernando Verdasco and Philipp Kohlschreiber, but beat both in three sets. However, he has never beaten Berdych in three attempts.
The final, when the tournament comes down to the last two, will thus bring years of experience, and not a little of it gained in Rotterdam, face to face with a chasing, ambitious band of 1990s players.
What happens in between, only time will tell, but here is a fact to carry into the quarter-finals. That first ever main-tour win for Dimitrov in Rotterdam, age just 17, was against… Berdych.
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