Ljubicic sneaks into second round at SAA Open

Top seed Ivan Ljubicic had to survive a second-set scare before putting away qualifier Lamine Ouahab of Algeria in the first round of the SAA Tennis Open at Selborne Park on Tuesday.

After one hour and 40 minutes, the Croatian finally won through 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and set up a second round encounter against Laurent Recourderc of France.

Nobody, least of all Ljubicic, expected a man ranked 294 places below him to give him such a torrid time.

“I had never seen him before so I didn’t know what to expect,” said the top seed. “He has seen me play before on TV or something so he knows my game.
He had to qualify so he has played two matches under these conditions. He also had no pressure and I’m sure he played above himself today.

“But when it comes to winning the match I know that my experience is going to make all the difference as it did in the end.”

Ljubicic looked to be cruising to a comfortable first-set win when he went up 5-2 in the opening set but when the Croat served for the set Ouahab came up with some remarkable returns to break back. But he lost his serve immediately and Ljubicic claimed the set.

The second set went with serve until the ninth game when the top seed found himself down 0-40. He got back to deuce but then dropped his serve for the Algerian to level the match.

But when Ouahab went down a break in the sixth game of the third set it proved decisive, and Ljubicic comfortably closed it out.

“As top seed for a tournament like this, you are always under pressure. Even when you win in three sets people start talking. But I played solid tennis and didn’t do anything stupid and most importantly, I probably benefited from playing three sets of tennis today,” said Ljubicic.

It was a day of mixed fortune for the South African players. Rik de Voest, at number five the only seeded South African in the draw, had to work hard to quell Germany’s Daniel Brands before taking the match 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (8-6). He will now play SA number two Kevin Anderson, a 6-2, 6-2 victor over Filip Prpic of Sweden.

Izak van der Merwe also moved through to the second round with a 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 victory over Denys Molchanov of Ukraine and he will face the winner of Wednesday’s encounter between third seed Thomas Johansson of Sweden and South African wild card Raven Klaasen.

However, out of the tournament went Wesley Moodie, beaten 6-1, 6-4 by Adrian Menendez of Spain. Moodie has had a problem with his left knee since the Australian Open and the injury flared up again early in the match.

Young Ruan Roelofse put up a brave fight before the experience of Frenchman Jeremy Chardy proved decisive. The 18-year-old just lacked experience late in the match as he went down 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Heinrich Heyl, who only got into the tournament as a lucky loser, also failed to reach the second round, losing to Swede Marcus Sarstand 6-1, 6-1.

Both De Voest and Anderson are looking forward to their second round encounter. “We practice together a lot but we’ve never played each other in a match. It should be interesting,” said De Voest.

Commenting on his win over Brands, the fifth seed said his wife, Carolyn, always called him “the king of the tie-breaks” after he went through a good run of winning a number of them. “So whenever I play a tie-break, I have this little voice in my head telling me that I’m the king of the tie-breaks.

“I know how tight they are and how every point could determine the outcome so I know I have to play every one to win.”

Brands had his chances in the second set breaker when De Voest netted a backhand at 3-4. Serving at 5-4 Brands set up his first set point when the South African sent a forehand long but De Voest saved it with a deep return that the German ploughed into the net.

De Voest held his serve for 6-6 and earned his first match point when Brands went for a big forehand but slammed it over the baseline. The match, however, ended in a whimper as the German double-faulted.

Anderson was relentless in his match against Prpic and his only moment of weakness was when he lost his serve after leading 2-1 in the second set. But as he had done in the first set, the 21-year-old South African reeled off the final four games.

“I haven’t played a match since the Australian Open but, other than the game where I dropped my serve, I’m very happy with the way I played today,” said Anderson. - Sapa

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