South African Davis Cup player Izak van der Merwe reached the Soweto Open Final at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre on Friday with a nail-biting 4-6 6-3 7-6 (4) win over Austria’s Alexander Peya.
Sapa reports that the high-class, 2hr 10min men’s semi-final reached a crescendo of excitement after Van der Merwe trailed 2-4 in the deciding tiebreaker, before taking five points in a row and romping home by a whisker with a flawless burst towards the finishing line that would have done credit to Usain Bolt.
Van der Merwe, who survived a tense match-point on his second serve while down 5-6, 30-40 in the third set, will now come up against Jamaican Dustin Brown, who had a more straight-forward 7-6 (3) 6-3 win over Sweden’s Stephane Bohli.
Saturday’s final will do well to match the drama and high level of tennis of the semifinal which ended with a distraught Peya slamming his racket into the court surface repeatedly while venting his frustration.
And the awesome level of international tennis competition right now was aptly reflected by the fact that Peya only entered the tournament proper after playing through three qualifying rounds and wild card Van der Merwe only made it into the main draw as an automatic qualifier after a number of withdrawals.
The women’s final on Saturday in the tournament that boasts R750 000 prize money for both the men and women, will be contested by Thailand’s inscrutable former world top 20 player, Tamarine Tenasugarn, who beat Mandy Minella 6-1 6-4, and Russia’s Nina Bratchikova, who overcame a gallant Jarmila Groth of Australia by a 6-3 3-6 6-2 margin.
But despite going on to lose the doubles final 6-2 6-2 in partnership with Raven Klaasen against Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and Croatia’s Lovro Zovko, all the focus on Friday was on the big-serving Van der Merwe, who avenged two previous defeats against Peya and showed his baseline game had developed to a point where he seems poised to ascend significantly up the tennis ladder.
To say the game against Peya could have gone either way sounds almost like an understatement after the Austrian’s all-court game gave him an edge in the first set and Van der Merwe’s power play was the deciding factor in the second set.
The third set was a tense and often brilliant battle of attrition with neither player dropping serve – although both players had a single opportunity to make the vital break.
“I think his service lost a little momentum towards the end of the third set,” said Van der Merwe afterwards, “and I continued to believe I could snatch victory because of this – even on my second serve with the match-point against me and again when going down 2-4 in the tiebreaker.”
Van der Merwe’s modest world ranking of 301st could now improve dramatically by as many as 125 places should he beat Brown in the Soweto Final – and, even if he fails, he is set for an upward climb in the rankings.
What is more, with the crucial Davis Cup tie against Finland at the Groenkloof Tennis Centre in Pretoria, only three weeks away, the resurgence of the amiable 6ft 5in Kempton Park-born giant could not have come at a better time.
Friday’s women’s doubles final ended in an extended 30-point tiebreaker decider with Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia and Eirini Georgatou of Greece beating New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic and Tanasugarn 6-3 5-7 (16-14).