Pune: Defending champion Gilles Simon came through in a tough three-setter against fifth seed Benoit Paire to set up a semi-final clash against top seed Kevin Anderson, who he has stunned in last year’s final while 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic and 34-year-old Steve Dacris set up an historic clash at the season-opening Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune on Thursday.

Third seed Simon fought back from a set down in the all-French quarter-final to overcome his flamboyant countryman 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4.

Cheered on by a vocal crowd who he had wowed in his title run in 2018, Simon dug deep to find the winners against Paire. Looking extremely fit and agile, he mixed things up by rushing to the net at times in the match that went well over two hours.

Earlier in the day, Crotaia’s Karlovic became oldest semi-finalist on the ATP tour since 42-year-old Jimmy Connors in 1995 when he beat an enterprising World No. 95 Ernests Gulbis 7-6(5), 7-6(5). The Latvian, who had upset second seed Hyeon Chung on Wednesday, had no answer to ATP Tour’s most lethal server.

Meanwhile Belgium’s Darcis, who missed the entire 2018 season with an elbow injury, became the first unranked semi-finalist in ATP Circuit this season.

Playing his first tournament in over a year, he stunned fourth seed Malek Jaziri 7-5, 6-2. The 34-year-old Tunisian was coming off a late night thriller against India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan, which he won at 1.20 AM.

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Darcis, who had a 2-0 record against the world No 45, was broken just once in the match and converted four out of five break points he got to set up a clash against Karlovic, who has not been broken so far in the tournament.

The Croatian, who will bid to become the oldest finalist on record since Ken Rosewall, 42, at 1977 Sydney Indoor, has won his only previous meeting against Darcis in straight sets 10 years ago at Wimbledon.

The most comfortable win of the day belonged to top-seed Anderson who fired 14 aces to notch a commanding win over Spanish rising star Juame Munar 6-3, 6-3. The big-serving South African lost his serve just once through the match but converted all four break points he got to dispatch the 21-year-old in just over 68 minutes.

Munar, who is the first big product of the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy, was broken early in the first game and could not recover against the barrage of shots from the 6’8’ player.

Friday’s semi-final will be second meeting for the first and third seed in Pune and the 32-year-old will try to reverse his finals loss from 2018.