A sense of relief was writ large on eighth-seeded Croatian Filip Veger’s face after he survived a sun-scorched, 165-minute, three-set battle against never-say-die Japanese left-hander Katsushi Fukuda 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in the second round of the US$10,000 ITF Cambodian Futures for the GLF-Tep Khunnah Trophy at the National Training Centre yesterday.
If one half of the court was all about 36-year-old Fukuda’s sublime touch and supple legs, the other was filled with 17-year-old Veger’s youthful exuberance and energy.
What transpired was one merited rally after another, one fiercely fought set after another, until the 15-year veteran of the pro circuit caved in, letting a rival half his age make the quarter-finals.
The first set turned the Croatian’s way on one break after the two had taunted each other in the first 10 games, with Veger’s aggression desperately trying to trump Fukuda’s obduracy.
Then the complexion of the match completely changed midway through the second set.
Despite Veger’s valiant attempt to hold his service game in the ninth, Fukuda came up with two line-clipping passes to break through. He then served with gusto to level the set scores.
It was evident at the start of the third that Veger was feeling the pinch more than his older rival, and he duly dropped his serve in the third game.
Looking for quick consolidation, the Japanese maestro was well heeled to serve out for a 3-1 lead, only to find his Croatian opponent spread the skids and break back to level 2-2.
It was to prove a decisive moment as Veger took control of the decider.
A transfixed audience, which included some ardent Fukuda fans, gave both players a standing ovation as they trooped off the court, Veger the richer for the exhaustive experience and Fukuda having nearly pulled off another of his specials.
“He was fantastic all three weeks, well worth the wild card we gave him and a shining example of on-court grit for youngsters to watch and follow,” Tennis Federation of Cambodia secretary-general Tep Rithivit said.
This high-intensity contest overshadowed the defeats of sixth-seeded Marcus Daneill of New Zealand and seventh-seeded Julien Demois of France.
Two players from Taipei engineered these upsets – Chieu Fu Wang sent Daniell packing 6-4, 6-4, while Ting Yu Chuang needed three sets to down Demois 6-7, 7-6, 6-2.
Top-seeded Axel Michon of France was under no pressure at any stage in dealing with Algerian qualifier Mehdi Bouras 6-3, 6-1.
Second-seeded Robin Kern of Germany breezed through the opening games, handing out a love set to Vietnamese qualifier Minh Quan Do, who fought back in the second before going down 6-0, 7-5.
Dekel Bar’s early bustle and a 4-0 first-set lead came to naught when fifth-seeded Chuan Wang of China began to find his touch.
Wang eventually won 7-6, 6-4.
Fourth-seeded Richard Gabb of Britain went down fighting to unseeded Gao Peng 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]