Russia-born Artem Sitak won his first ITF Futures singles title under the New Zealand flag in two years, outlasting the only surviving seed among the eight, Alexander Ward of Great Britain, in a pulsating three-setter 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 to bag the GLF-Cham Prasidh Cup at the National Training Centre on Saturday.
“Thanks for reminding me that,” the unseeded Sitak said at the post-match interview on the court, slowly picking himself up after a final filled with drama, intrigue and suspense.
Sitak’s previous titles came in the United States in 2008 and 2010 after he had picked up his maiden one in Russia way back in 2005.
Was the final set tie-break a heartbreak for Ward after all the hard work that had gone into his come-back from a set down? “Indeed it was,” said the 22-year-old Briton, disappointment written all over his face, a few drops of sweat and toil still dripping from it and a shirt which looked as if it had just been soaked in water.
The winner was happy for an early Christmas present, having played his last match of the season and heading home for what he called a bit of a break and festivities.
Throughout the year, 26-year-old Sitak, who began his pro career in 2003, had mainly played Challengers and ATP events, and had switched back to the Futures to get some ranking points.
That part of the mission was accomplished to a great extent. His semi-final loss last week to Axel Michon netted him six points and the victory this week another 18. His current ranking of 714th is still a long way from his career best of 299th in 2008.
But, for the New Zealander, that is an entirely different matter for another day.
“Both of us held each other back well, not allowing the other to go ahead that far,” said Ward, who was considered as the man to beat after seven of his fellow seeds fell by the wayside during the week.
There were some common notes that both struck in that short address before the trophy presentation. They complimented each other for being tough and combative which instantly brought to focus the spirit with which a fierce final like his had been played.
They also both promised to return to Phnom Penh next year. Most importantly for the Tennis Federation of Cambodia, the finalists had only good words for the organisation, the people and the host country.
Even an ingenious Hollywood scriptwriter could not have come up with so many tantalising twists and turns played out in sweltering heat.
Trading from the baseline was so heavy that rallies were not merely long and enthralling, they were often explosive.
Then there was this delicate touch play, intricate interludes of drops with an odd missile whizzing past net advancers – and both took turns to be victims.
A smidgen of luck also had a role to play in a few crucial net cords – and there were reasons for Sitak to be happy about the ratio. The one he got in the third set will probably long stay in his memory.
Breaking down a final with so many shades of colour and crisis would certainly involve the danger of underplaying its every essence.
A solitary break in the ninth game gave Sitak the first set. That, however, hides Ward’s court courage and craft.
In the next 12 games both latched onto their serves, fending off a few break points here and there.
Within the first six points of the second set tie-break, Sitak found to his chagrin that the Briton, having skipped to a 5-1 lead, was hard to dislodge, as he found out soon enough.
The first to come up with a break of serve in the decider was Sitak. Serving at 3-2, the New Zealander seemed to have got over the second-set blues.
But, as it turned out, not quite. Ward broke right back and games went with serves from then on, leading to the inevitable tie-break.
Momentum was swinging from one end to the other like a yo-yo. That was when Sitak rifled a double-fisted backhand down the line and Ward could only marvel at its speed and precision from the other side of the court.
The last few crucial points saw the Auckland-based Sitak deal with the percentages and margins better than Ward, who had won a Futures event in Thailand in early November.
Born in Orenberg, Sitak had spent his formative years in Russia along with his brother Dmitri Sitak, himself a player of repute those days.
Winner of the Orange Bowl at the age of 14, Sitak won a golden double at the Summer Universiade in Izmir before plunging into the pro circuit when he was 17. He has 16 doubles titles to his credit so far in ITF events.
Ward, on the other hand, has a winning percentage of 53, with singles titles in Sweden and Germany last year.
He has just one doubles triumph, which came in Germany early this year.
Ward and Sitak took different routes to the final. On Friday, Ward proved too strong for top-seeded Ti Chen 6-3, 6-4, while Sitak avenged his defeat last week at the hands of Michon by beating the French third seed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Matsuji Konoshita, president of GL Finance, the sponsors of the GLF-Cham Prasidh Cup and this week’s GLF-Tep Khunnah Cup, distributed the trophies to the doubles winners.
Secretary of State for the Ministry of Commerce Kem Sithan gave away the prizes for the singles winner and the runners-up.
Marcus Daneill of New Zealand and Richard Gabb of Great Britain blended well to pick up their second doubles title in a row.
Winners last week in the final over the Gao twins from China, Daneill and Gabb this time beat Gao Wan and his Indian partner Jeevan Neduncheziyan 6-1, 7-6 in the final on Friday.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]