Ranked 93 in the world, he had made just one final in his career before, in Sofia this year. In Basel, he reached his second, having come through qualifying, and beating not just the third seed Marin Cilic in the second round but then the No2 seed, Alexander Zverev, in the semis.
It made the big single-hander the first qualifier to play for the title in Basel since Marcos Baghdatis in 2005, and also made him the lowest-ranked finalist at this tournament since No100 Patrick McEnroe in 1994.
Now he has a shot at becoming the 14th first-time champion in 2018—but the task does not get any easier. To win his first title, he will have to beat the biggest name in Basel, the eight time and defending champion, Roger Federer.
However, if Copil does not feel confident after this week, with the prospect of a new career high inside the top 60 already in the bag, he never will. For his performance, both physical and mental, against the young pretender Zverev was top drawer.
He needed just one break in the first set to serve it out, 6-3, but he came under heavy fire in the second, holding off three break points in the fourth 11-minute game, to keep things level for 2-2.
Meanwhile, Zverev’s serving was building up the pressure. He would drop only three out of 28 first-serve points in the set and offer up not a break point.
Copil, though, edged the first lead in the subsequent tie-break, 4-2, before Zverev levelled. The Romanian would also serve for the match at 6-5, only to double fault, while the young German seized his first chance against serve to level the match, 7-6(6).
On they went, then, with Copil not backing off from his aggressive game. He was comfortable at the net—he would win 20 points there—and made few errors off his big single-handed backhand. And it would be the Romanian who resisted the pressure the better through the set, playing with patience and accuracy from all quarters, surviving two deuces, and holding for 5-4 with a 29-shot rally.
Thus far, neither man had worked a break point in the set, but now Zverev felt the full force of that Copil backhand: first a pass up the line; then four straight backhands, the last a cross-court winner, to bring up match point. And a bold volley winner finished the job, after more than two and a half hours, 6-4.
It earned a standing ovation from the Basel crowd, though Copil may feel less support when he takes to court for tomorrow’s final against the adored home-born champion.
Federer’s one and only match against the No20 ranked 22-year-old Daniil Medvedev was just a fortnight ago in Shanghai, and it was a close three-setter. For the mighty Swiss had been struggling for consistency since the summer. He revealed only this week that he had picked up a hand injury during the grass swing, and in retrospect, it explained a lot: poor serving stats, countless forehand errors, and frustration in bucket-loads as he let winning positions slip away.
He still blew hot and cold in Shanghai last week, losing in the semis in straight sets to Borna Coric, and the Basel faithful were kept on the edge of their seats this week, as Federer slowly extended his winning streak at the St Jakobshalle arena to 18.
He was taken to three sets by Filip Krajinovic, then again by Gilles Simon. And in that quarter-final match he was also down in the first set, only edging it in a tie-break.
He brushed aside questions about concerns over his low serving percentage, and sure enough, come the highest ranked opponent this week—and Medvedev had three titles this season just as Federer did—his serving edged the right side of 50 percent from the start.
Even so, the Swiss faced a break point in the first game, and began the third game with a double fault. But Medvedev looked nervous, and he offered up plenty of errors of his own. A double fault in the fourth game brought up 0-40, and he double faulted again to concede the break.
Federer held to love, took advantage of more errors from the Russian to break again, and served out the set, 6-1, in under 20 minutes, 10 winners to one.
The onslaught continued in the second set, another double fault conceding a break in the first game for Medvedev, and Federer broke again for 3-0.
Yet those tell-tale signs of nerves crept into the Swiss racket again, his first serve disappeared, and he had to fight off break point for 4-0. No matter, he still had chances to finish off the job in around 50 minutes, but he could not take advantage of a break chance in a seven-minute seventh game. Now Medvedev was warming up, broke to love for 3-5, and fended off another break point for 4-5.
At last, though, Federer wrenched back control to serve out the win, 6-4, in 65 minutes. It took him to his 14th Basel final, his 12th on the bounce, to his 70th match-win in the tournament, and one win away from Basel title No9 and career title No99.
One man stands in his way, Copil: And he will be in hot pursuit of his own piece of history—his first ever title.
Final Basel, 3pm (2pm UK)
Roger Federer vs Marius Copil
Final Vienna, 2pm (1pm UK)
Kei Nishikori vs Kevin Anderson
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