Fifth seed Fernando' />
Chilean power versus Argentine durability; that's what is in store in the South American semifinal showdown in Auckland today.
Fifth seed Fernando Gonzalez represents the muscular side of the Latin game, while sixth-seeded Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela is largely a baseline operator, although his doubles prowess shows he can mix his game.
Gonzalez is through to the last four at the Heineken Open after dismissing American Robby Ginepri 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals yesterday. Chela was untroubled to beat Italian Potito Starace 6-1, 7-6 (7-5).
The South American pair know each other well. Chela has won the last three of their four clashes, but there is mutual respect.
"He's tough," said ferocious slugger Gonzalez. "We know each other very well. He's not aggressive but he puts a lot of balls in play."
As might be expected, both reckon their game is improving as they advance in the US$404,000 ($570,000) tournament at the ASB Tennis Centre.
World No 23 Gonzalez fancies his chances of picking up the fifth ATP singles title of his career. The previous four have come on clay, but he has kept the error rate down on his high risk game.
When it works, and it has this week, it's spectacular.
Chela, the world No 26, has dark horse written all over him.
Tall and lean, he has done his business on the outside courts until yesterday. Starace is the first player to have taken more than two games off him in a set.
His play has been composed and efficient. The 25-year-old from Buenos Aires has three clay titles to his name. He is looking good this week and his confidence is up.
As with another semifinalist, Belgium's Olivier Rochus, Chela made the last four at the Australian hardcourt championships in Adelaide last week.
"Physically I feel very good. It is very good preparation for the Australian Open," Chela added.
Gonzalez, who is also in the semifinals of the doubles, says his game is sharpening with each day.
"From the first match I have been feeling really good. When my forehand is working, and my serve, they are my best shots so I just go for it."
Which is why Chela's tactical assessment tallies: "I will have to play to his backhand."
Rochus squares off against qualifier Jan Hernych today after eliminating top-seeded Argentine Guillermo Coria in straight sets yesterday. Hernych beat unseeded Argentine Jose Acasuso 6-4, 7-5 in an ordinary quarter-final last night.
Gonzalez and American Jim Thomas grabbed the last doubles semifinal place by eliminating No 1 seeds Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez in an entertaining match.
That keeps Gonzalez on track to be the first player to win singles and doubles titles in the Open since New Zealand's Chris Lewis 20 years ago.
Court one (starts noon):
5-F. Gonzalez (Chile) v J. I. Chela (Argentina)
O. Rochus (Belgium) v Q-J. Hernych (Czech Republic)
Gonzalez/J. Thomas (US) v S. Aspelin (Sweden)/T. Perry (Australia).