SATURDAY SUMMARY: ANYONE FOR TENNIS?
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Not while the British weather had its way.
The centre court crowd could have been forgiven for thinking the tournament referee’s nickname of ‘Rain Man’ was a bad omen but when play finally started, it proved to be a fantastic day of high quality tennis.
Covers off. Covers on. Covers off. Rain delays on day three of the Liverpool Hope University International Tennis Tournament, forced the order of play to be changed but thrills and skills were unaffected.
With the eagerly anticipated match between British Number 2, Aljaz Bedene and Damir Dzumhur rescheduled for later in the day, the crowd was entertained by a doubles match involving four legends of the game.
As the four men stepped onto centre court, the crowd went wild at the announcement of national treasure Jeremy Bates, who teamed up with the trickster of tennis Mansour Bahrami.
The pair faced off against the formidable Peter McNamara and former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek, who still cuts an intimidating figure all those years on from ‘that quarter final’, which saw him dispatch Pete Sampras.
Entertainment levels were at maximum, as all four men displayed the skills that saw them become household names in their respective heydays.
Bahrami’s sense of humour and showmanship was more than a match for Krajicek’s power and Bates showed all the finesse that held together a Davis Cup team that always punched above its weight with him at the helm.
The crowd went wild in the second game, when Bahrami’s skills gave him such a command of the court that Bates switched sides.
Teaming up with Krajicek and McNamara, Bates’s new trio was bested by a barrage of strokes that would have looked implausible if they had been created using Hollywood special effects.
Realising that it was better to be with Bahrami than against him, Bates switched back and the game became more competitive, with all four men very evenly matched.
The thrilling and intensely comedic match – inevitable when Bahrami is involved – saw Krajicek and McNamara scoop victory, in a result that belied the excitement and pure joy generated by these masters of tennis.
Final score: 8,6 Krajicek and McNamara.
The distinctly more serious tone of match two was mellowed by the buzz of a crowd, still smiling from the spectacle laid on by the legends.
British number two, Aljaz Bedene warmed up along with the conditions, with some blistering serves bamboozling opponent Damir Dzumhur, to take the first game.
In spite of finding his form and matching Bedene in most rallies, Dzumhur was too frequently out-muscled by his more powerful opponent, taking too long to hold his own service games.
Bedene’s serve suffered a little wind whipped around centre court but it was only a temporary setback, for which he more than compensated with impressive ground strokes from the baseline.
Dzumhur’s fitness continued to impress, as an increasingly aggressive Bedene stepped in from the baseline mixing up an effective serve, volley game with thunderous forehands.
With both men holding serve, Dzumhur was never out of the match but his accurate backhands and delicate touch were matched by Bedene’s ability to read and anticipate – and his incredible athleticism, which saw him cover the court with the same ease with which he held serve.
A tie break ended in a shock result, with some loose serves from Bedene gifting Dzumhur two easy points. Then an ace, served more with pinpoint accuracy than force sealed it for the Bosnian.
The second set followed the form of the first, with both men holding increasingly intense service games, the fifth lasting the longest, with 14 deuce points played.
Bedene was still holding his service games with much more ease than Dzumhur so a break seemed inevitable.
Yet, the break never came and at six five to Dzumhur, with Bedene serving, another tie break looked likely and was certainly anticipated by the crowd.
The run of play would have suggested a Bedene tie break win but again, loose serving and a double fault handed Dzumhur game, set and match on a plate, 7,6. 7,5.
Never looking like he had the power to defeat Bedene, Dzumhur’s grit, accuracy and fitness gave him more of an edge than his lack of physical size would suggest possible.
He was able to soak up Bedene’s power and strike with surgical precision when the few opportunities arose.
Match three saw Spain’s Pablo Andujar take on Russian wonder-kid, Andrey Rublev.
Undaunted at the prospect of facing the hottest property in the junior game, Andujar displayed his customary guile and speed, serving three aces in the first game, with Rublev standing like a statue.
Rublev’s first service game was a different story. Working behind a powerful first serve and moving like a boxer, the Russian looked in his groove.
Rublev’s talent was on evident for all on centre court to see. While he could not break Andujar, he forced the Spaniard to work hard to hold his serve.
Rublev showed some frustration at over-hitting three or four forehands from the baseline during his next service game, allowing Andujar, who seemed to get cooler and cooler, to break with ease.
The centre court crowd could see a storm brewing, not in the now blue sky but on Rublev’s side of the net.
The Russian fought hard and pushed Andujar to hold his serve for the first set. He was now finding his form.
The second set started in a flash, with Andujar discovering that playing a wound up Rublev is like locking yourself in a room with a cobra. It’s only a matter of time before you get bitten.
There was the bite. An almost flawless service game from the tall Russian whetted the crowd’s collective appetite.
Both men pushed each other hard but it was Andujar who responded most positively, breaking Rublev again in the third.
Rublev went up through the gears again – but so did Andujar, which made for a true thriller.
A Rublev break in the sixth added to the tension, with both men wheeling out all the shots.
Andujar’s backhand was sublime but Rublev’s forehand was like a freight train coming from the baseline.
Neither man seemed to want to move toward the net, both relying on their power and precision.
The stalemate continued, even after Andujar attracted some unwanted attention from a friendly bee.
Rublev was first to crack, his serve getting wild. Cool as ever, Andujar capitalised, breaking in the ninth and now one game from victory.
Saluting his opponent before serving, Andujar let go a rocket. Rublev was rooted to the spot.
The next point was different. Andujar served to Rublev’s backhand again and the Russian knew just how to deal with it.
In spite of dishing out some spirited returns, Rublev’s obvious talent could not match Andujr’s composure
Both men have what it takes to reach the top and Liverpool’s tennis fans might have just witnessed the beginning of an exciting rivalry.
6,3 6,4 Andujar.
Another fantastic day at the Liverpool Hope University International Tennis Tournament, in spite of Rain Man’s reputation.