Second seed Robin Kern of Germany rained aces on his way to a 6-4, 6-4 win over top seed Axel Michon of France in the final of the $10,000 ITF Cambodian Futures for the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy at the National Training Centre on Saturday.
Driven by the power his 1.9-metre, 89-kilogram frame ceaselessly produced, the German hulk blasted out half a dozen service winners on top of 15 aces – four of them in one game.
This made life difficult for the French scurrier, whose plucky play nevertheless kept the margin between success and failure tight.
It was the fourth title of the year for 19-year-old Kern, whose earlier singles triumphs were in Turkey and Greece. But the crowning moment for the Nuremberg-born youngster was doubles success at the 2012 US Open Junior Championships.
With 10 singles titles in his bag, an 11th here in Phnom Penh would have been something special for Michon: a birthday gift a week in advance. The stylish left-hander turns 22 on Sunday, and he admitted during a post-match interview that he was deeply disappointed.
Gone were the first week’s rancour and rage that had made Michon a villain of sorts after outbursts against chair umpire Razmee Rawi of Indonesia during his gallant fight against Maximilian Neuchrist.
Mixing suspense with intrigue, both Rawi and Michon were back but this time all they exchanged were pleasant nods and no words at all – a trouble-free run for everyone involved.
The transformation when Michon got onto the court on Saturday was dramatic but welcome. It was obvious the talented Frenchman had left behind his propensity for tantrums and had got into the groove much more quickly than his rival.
In the first few games, Michon’s formidable levels of self-belief and accuracy on ground strokes pinned the German giant down. It was plain common sense that Kern’s most potent weapon would be his serves, and so it proved as he put his game face on midway through the first set.
The German right-hander was reeling off his service games with absolute ease and authority, whereas the Frenchman had to dig himself out of trouble a few times.
It was Kern who made early inroads on Michon’s serve, rattling up three break points and cashing in on the second, dinking a strong forehand into a faraway corner.
Armed with the break, the German served out the first set to take a potentially crucial hold on the match.
The second set had all the trappings of the first: Kern soaking up baseline pressure while giving himself plenty of room to work his strong serves on Michon. Yet it was the latter who was trying harder than at any time in the contest, getting within a point of breaking serve.
In fact, in a Kern service game that went, quite surprisingly, to deuce three times, Michon failed to take hold of any of them and the German responded in the only fashion he is familiar with: aces.
The French left-hander, visibly annoyed with himself for letting a chance like that pass, looked somewhat deflated in the games that followed, struggling as he was to get some room to breathe freely.
Mercy to his rival on court is not one of German teenager’s stronger suits. When his turn to serve came in the eighth game, he put them on auto mode, firing one ace after another, four in a row, devastating the Frenchman, who surrendered his service game that followed.
The rest was a matter of time and margins for Kern, who raced away to a comfortable victory.
The German was magnanimous in his praise for his opponent and the fight he had put up.
The Frenchman returned the compliment, adding that his rival had been solid throughout. Both Kern and Michon, who said they would love to return next year, reserved high praise for the organisational excellence and the helpful attitude of the Tennis Federation of Cambodia.
Yi Sarun plays exhibition
Memories of the golden era of Cambodian tennis came flooding back when 68-year old Yi Sarun, one of only three national-team survivors from the Khmer Rouge regime, got on the court after the singles final with Davis Cup hero Bun Kenny for a double exhibition match against Antoine Escoffier of France and Katsuhi Fukuda of Japan.
The Japanese left-hander brought a touch of hilarity to the court when he handed over his racquet to 12-year-old Tep Timothy to play the last few points.
Tep Timothy is the third link in the Kingdom’s famous tennis lineage. He is a grandson of the legendary Tep Khunnah and the son of TFC Secretary-General Tep Rithivit.
Bridging a 50-year gap and bringing generations together, Yi Sarun symbolised the historic significance of the 1960s, when the late Tep Khunnah dominated the tennis scene as national captain.
In a pleasant coincidence, Yi Sarun was picked to the national side by none other than late Tep Khunnah, in whose honour the third and final leg of the ITF Cambodian Futures was named as the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy.
Mitsuji Konoshita, the president of GL Finance, sponsor of the GLF-Cham Prasidh Cup and the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy, distributed the trophies to finalists Kern and Michon, with a pledge he would make it bigger and better next year.
Vath Chamroeun, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, distributed mementos to the ITF officials.
“Staging such international events has raised our country’s sports profile,” Chamroeun said.
Triple of doubles titles
Marcus Daneill of New Zealand and Richard Gabb of Great Britain completed a hat-trick of doubles wins on Saturday.
They took the honours in the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy, beating China’s Gao twins, Wan and Peng, 7-5, 6-2, adding to their victories in the first and second weeks.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]