Sparks fly on and off court

9:05 am on 13 January 2018

Friday evening at Stanley Street was another scorcher, and the stands were again full.

Tennis fans on a scorching Auckland afternoon at the ASB Classic

Tennis fans on a scorching Auckland afternoon at the ASB Classic Photo: Photosport

I took a stroll out back to the back area in front of the big screen, which was rammed with folks just finished work and ready to take advantage of the beautiful summer evening. It seemed that the tennis was proving to be a popular destination for users of Tinder, with a few obvious dates going on.

I chatted to one stripey-dress clad dater (while the guy was getting her a drink), who admitted that the connection so far wasn't that great. However, she did say that the choice of venue and ample supply of rosé was more than making up for it.

On court in the first match, though, there was the not-so-small matter of Kiwi Michael Venus proving a point to the Halberg Awards. Venus, French Open doubles champion and the first New Zealander to taste Grand Slam success since 1979, partnered up with South African Raven Klaasen to take on Belarusian Max Myrni and Austrian Philipp Oswald.

Unfortunately, Venus and Klaasen failed to crack the veterans - going down 7-6, 7-6. The duo now head to the Australian Open, where Venus will be hoping to recreate his Grand Slam heroics from last year.

While all eyes were on the later match between Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer, it was the other semi-final between Roberto Bautista Agut and Robin Haase that provided perhaps the best match of the tournament so far.

The two played out a thrilling three-setter, which saw Bautista Agut prevail 7-6, 6-7, 7-6.

The Spaniard isn't the most interesting guy on or off the court, in contrast to the Dutchman Haase - who fired up for every one of the 19 aces he sent down. The crowd was treated to three tiebreaks, with the match going for a gripping two hours and 52 minutes. It was fitting that Bautista Agut pulled out a stunning lob winner to close out the final point.

He now moves to his second Auckland final, to go with the 2016 event, which he won.

"At the end, everything was very close. We gave everything on the court and at the end anything could happen - but I won," Bautista Agut said in a press conference afterwards.

The sun had set by the time crowd favourties David Ferrer and Juan Martin del Potro took the court.

The 1.98m Argentinean said earlier in the week that he'd been working on his backhand, which has been a bit of weakness in his game due to constant surgery. He used it for some deft touches in the first set, which he took 6-4 after breaking Ferrer early. The crowd, clearly feeling jolly after a few drinks, took great delight in deep-voiced umpire Kader Nouni's sultry pronunciation of the word 'deuce'.

The second set stayed on serve until del Potro broke Ferrer late with an outstanding rally and winner. He closed out the set 6-4 to send the popular Ferrer off centre court to a standing ovation.

So now we've got a showdown at 2.30pm Saturday between del Potro and Bautista Agut, who have clearly been the form two players in the tournament. Both have won here before, and will be looking to take a winning streak on to the upcoming Australian Open.

I checked in later on to see how the Tinder dates were going, and it was definitely good signs for at least one couple. The outside area was very popular for fans looking to pick up a cheap ticket, so it's a shame it'll be another year before you can suggest the ASB Classic as a first date location.

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