Unfazed by the loss of the first set and unmindful of his rival’s frequent whining over line calls, sixth seeded Maximilian Neuchrist stood taller than his six-feet (1.83 metres) in a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over third seeded French left-hander Axel Michon in the final of the ITF NagaWorld Futures Championships at the National Training Centre on Saturday.
In the aggressive mood and the assailing form he was in from the first game of the second set, no force from the other half of the court could have prevented the Austrian’s triumphant march towards his second singles title.
The right-handed Neuchrist’s maiden success came a few weeks ago in Israel – as destiny would have it at the expense of Michon, 6-4, 6-4 being the scoreline then revealing how little there was between the two.
There was no dearth of drama in their return fight, which was full of amazing arcs and angles in rallies where each dragged the other across the baseline, making an odd advance to the net to hold up the excitement.
Ranked 533rd in the world, which in fact is his career high having started out at 1,711th less than three years ago, Neuchrist faltered at the start with the sun mercilessly bearing down. But the loss of the first set to two breaks of his serve seemingly brought the best out of the Austrian.
The rest of the way, Neuchrist, who has played 23 tournaments so far this year to Michon’s 28, was notably the more aggressive and consistent of the two on court.
No one could have tried harder than the 384th ranked French left-hander, who has 10 singles titles at this level stashed away in his Paris home.
He was decidedly the more experienced of the two on the Pro circuit, having won two qualifying round matches at Rolland Garros and gone out in the first round of the Australian Open qualifiers.
In simpler terms, the single pivot in Saturday’s contest came in the ninth game of the third set after the two had shared the first two in an identical fashion and scoreline. The tall Austrian whistled seven aces past Michon, who had just three.
Neuchrist confidently served out the match but at the other end, the Frenchman was seething with rage over a couple of calls, in particular, one justifiable overruling of a line judge by chair umpire Razmee Rawi of Malaysia.
Apart from frequent stare downs on line judges and the chair umpire and nods of disapproval, Michon was wrestling with his own emotions.
Once his anger over a ball change spread quickly into an argument with the Chair Umpire. The conversation ended when ITF Supervisor Puneet Gupta intervened.
The outcome of this debate was a code violation warning for the Frenchman.
None among the crowd or the dignitaries lined up for the trophy presentation could have spared a drop of sympathy for the gallant fight that Michon had put up because he chose the post match interview on court to vent his frustration and ire over chair umpire Rawi in some very impolite language.
“I lost the match because of the umpire. He was very bad and I hate him,” said Michon, who at the start of the interview had claimed his English was not so good.
His vitriol and venom came out quite clear to the annoyance of almost everyone and at one point, ITF Supervisor Gupta, who was within earshot of this Michon rant, firmly asked the interviewer to stop it.
The fall out of this tantrum could lead to some kind of punitive action against the player, who clearly stated he would not care if people branded him a bad loser for the comments he had made.
A jubiliant Neuchrist on the other hand graciously complimented Michon for his brave fight. He said at the start of the second set he had made up his mind to go for it and was quite happy that the game plan worked.
If one thought the Austrian legend Thomas Muster, a former world No 1 and the 1995 French Open winner, would be Neuchrist’s role model, they were in for a surprise.
Much as Neuchrist admires Muster as a household name in his country, he is a great fan of Russia’s Marat Safin.
On the way to the finals, Neuchrist sent out Mico Santiago of the United States 6-4, 6-2 while Michon had a hard fought 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 win over New Zealander Artem Sitak.
For his splendid effort during the week, Neuchrist picked up a cash prize of US$1,300 and 18 ATP points.
Losing finalist Michon got $900 and 10 ATP points in this US$10,000 event. Rajesh Kumar, Vice President of Events, Entertainment and Promotions at NagaWorld, the main sponsors of the tournament, handed over trophies to the winner and runner-up.
Gabb, Daniell win doubles
The third seeded pairing of Richard Gabb of Great Britan and Marcus Daniell of New Zealand won the men’s doubles event with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Gao twins Peng and Wan from China.
In fact Peng carried an injury into this final which greatly impacted their performance.
The trophies to the doubles winners were presented by Tennis Federation of Cambodia’s Global Goodwill Ambassador Hisae Arai, a former Miss Japan.
TFC Secretary General Tep Rithivit, meanwhile, extended a warm welcome to players and fans alike for the second ITF Futures event – the GLF-Cham Prasidh Cup – which begins its main draw matches today.
Taiwan star gets wild card
Taiwanese six-footer Ti Chen, who led his country to an historic team gold medal at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, has been allotted a wild card by the TFC for the GLF-Cham Prasidh Cup.
The right hander, now ranked 204th with career earnings of $222,497 in both singles and doubles, will almost certainly start as the top seed for the $10,000 event.
“We are glad to give a player of Ti Chen’s calibre a wild card. He didn’t enter but he is keen on playing here. The brighter side for Cambodia is that he will partner Bun Kenny in the doubles,” Tep Rithivit told the Post yesterday.
Japan’s Katsushi Fukuda, who surpassed all expectations by reaching the quarterfinals in the just concluded ITF NagaWorld Championships, gets the second wild card, while national players Bun Kenny and Mam Panhara get a similar passage to the 32-player main draw.
Mam Phalkun, who played the main draw in the first event through a wild card, dropped down to the qualifiers in the second week.
On Saturday, playing on Court 2 at about the time the final between Maximilian Neuchrist and Axel Michon was going on, Phalkun went down fighting to Canada’s Philip Anderson 7-6, 6-4 in the first round.
Cambodia’s second entry in the qualifiers, Long Samneang, was no match for Hungarian Gaber Csonka, who won 6-1, 6-2.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]