LOS ANGELES (AFP, REUTERS) - American eighth seed Tennys Sandgren advanced to his first ATP Tour final on Saturday (April 14), downing Croatia's 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-4) at the US Men's Clay Court Championships.
World No. 56 Sandgren, whose only ATP-level run past the first round before this week was into January's Australian Open quarter-finals, booked a berth in Sunday's trophy match against defending champion Steve Johnson, who beat fellow American Taylor Fritz 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2.
With a victory, 88th-ranked Karlovic would have become the oldest ATP finalist since Ken Rosewall won the 1977 Hong Kong title at age 43.
Karlovic settled for being the oldest ATP semi-finalist since Jimmy Connors in 1993 at San Francisco, unable to repeat his 2007 Houston title run to his only career clay crown.
Sandgren broke back to level at 4-4 in the opening set, denied Karlovic on a break chance in the ninth game and then dominated the tie-breaker, scoring five of the last six points.
The 26-year-old American broke for a 2-1 edge in the second set but Karlovic broke back to level at 3-3, setting up the final tie-break.
Sandgren took his lone point off Karlovic's serve for a 5-3 lead, then held twice on his next serves for victory in 97 minutes.
Sixth seed Johnson squandered a chance to wrap up the match in the second set when he almost broke Fritz in the 12th game. But he left nothing to chance as he raced through the decider at the River Oaks Country Club.
The 28-year-old, riding high after ousting top seed John Isner in the quarter-finals, will now seek a third career ATP title when he faces Sandgren in their first career meeting.