Unheralded Chinese national Gao Wan reached his fiery best in toppling top-seeded Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan of India 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the ITF NagaWorld Futures Championship at the National Training Centre today.
Better known on the pro circuit for his doubles exploits with his twin brother Gao Peng, the Chinese right-hander not only dug tunnels with his serves but chaffed the lines quite often, firing winners from all round the court.
The 330th-ranked Indian was completely put off his stride by Gao, whose ranking of 984th was mocking proof that what counted in the end was the day’s form and not rankings and reputations.
The top seed graciously admitted after the loss that his Chinese rival was far too aggressive and consistent on the day and that he himself had been rather slow to respond.
“By the time I could come up with a game plan to counter his aggression, he was already far ahead. He was aggressive and he played very well,” Jeevan told the Post.
There was no sign of the impending trouble for Jeevan when he won a break of serve early in the first set, but once Gao got into the groove, he began hitting fluently on both flanks. With excellent court coverage backing his sure-fire ground strokes, he was the dominant player on the court.
“I felt very good about my game today. I thought my opponent began quite slow, and I could take control quickly. Yes, I have had some big successes in the four years of my pro life, but this ranks among the best in singles,” said Gao after his victory that took him a little more than an hour to complete.
The last vestiges of Cambodian interest in singles disappeared this morning after Mam Panhara went down gamely to sixth-seeded Maximilian Neuchrist of Austria in two pulsating sets, 6-4, 7-5.
“Panhara’s performance was by far the best among the three Cambodian players. He played his heart out. He lacked a bit of match sharpness since he had not played competitive tennis after that Davis Cup run in Doha,” Tennis Federation of Cambodia Secretary-General Tep Rithivit said after the match.
The first set was a tight affair, with 26-year-old Panhara having a couple of chances to draw level at 4-4 but ultimately missing out, giving Neuchrist the opportunity to close out the set.
The two traded breaks early in the second before Panhara took firm control of the set, jumping into a 5-2 lead. He then served for the set at 5-3, only to lose his serve and a bit of his nerve too.
The tall Austrian served out the 10th game and reeled off two more on the trot for a five-game winning streak to end Panhara’s fightback.
The most popular winner of the day was Japanese veteran Katsushi Fukuda. At 36, he is the oldest player in the main draw and he justified his wildcard from the TFC by scalping seventh-seeded Sarvar Ikramov of Uzbekhistan 6-3, 6-3.
Lustily cheered on by a small Japanese crowd, the indomitable Fukuda, who has been on the pro circuit for nearly 15 years, was never in trouble, controlling the pace of the rallies and directing them to his advantage.
“I am so thankful to the TFC for giving me this wildcard, and I am also deeply indebted to the Asian Development Fund and its President Mitsuji Konoshita for sponsoring me all these years,” Fukuda told the Post.
Fukuda's best performance in the Futures series was way back in 2002, when he made the final of an event in China.
Meanwhile, fifth-seeded Antoine Escoffier of France breezed through his first round with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Yan Sabanin of Russia.
There was another seeded casualty on the day in Alexander Ward of Great Britain. The fourth seed went down tamely to Indonesia's Elbert Sie 6-4, 6-0.
Eighth-seeded Sebastien Boltz of France lost the first set on a tie-breaker but levelled the set scores by taking the second at 6-3, after which his Chinese rival Wang Chuhan retired from the contest.
Artem Sitak of New Zealand was also handed victory after winning the first set 7-5 and going 1-0 up in the second as his rival Filip Veger of Croatia cried halt.
Cambodia’s Mam Panhara hits a shot during his match against Austria's Maximilian Neuchrist in the ITF Cambodia NagaWorld Futures this morning at the National Training Centre. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]