Albert Ramos-Vinolas beat Lucas Pouille 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 to reach the clay-court Monte Carlo Masters final on Saturday.
Although the 15th-seeded Ramos Vinolas has never previously reached a Masters final and has won only one career title, he has good credentials on clay, having got to the French Open quarterfinals last year. The 29-year-old Spaniard plays either defending champion Rafael Nadal or 10th-seeded David Goffin of Belgium, who play later Saturday.
The semifinal saw two players who made significant breakthroughs last year, with the 23-year-old Pouille reaching Grand Slam quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Pouille had won their only previous match two years ago, in straight sets, on outdoor hard courts in Auckland.
With the sun shining and warm temperatures, the conditions were perfect for clay-court tennis on the idyllic center court perched above the glittering Mediterranean sea.
Ramos-Vinolas took the first set when he broke the 11th-seeded Frenchman to love, concluding with a smash at the net.
Pouille missed a chance to break in the ninth game of the second set, meaning he was serving to stay in the match. After holding easily with a neat volley at the net, Pouille got the crowd going and then played his best tennis of the match.
He broke Ramos-Vinolas in the next game when the Spaniard hit a forehand long, and Pouille leveled the match on his own serve.
But he seemed to be struggling physically in the deciding set.
At 3-0 down, Pouille needed treatment to his lower back and hips for about four minutes during the changeover.
His power went after that and the inevitable conclusion happened when Pouille dropped his serve again in the seventh game.
Ramos-Vinolas has one career title — on outdoor clay by the sea in Bastad, Sweden — and has lost three other finals, including this year on outdoor clay at Sao Paulo.