Mon, May 11, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Lu Yen-hsun’s win brings fond memories of Israel

By Luke Sabatier  /  CNA , TAIPEI

Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan eyes the ball during a Davis Cup tie against Somdev Devvarman of India in Kaohsiung on March 8.

PHOTO: AFP

Lu Yen-hsun’s first singles title of the year in the US$100,000 Israel Open earned him valuable ranking points on Saturday and evoked memories of the special place the city holds in his career.

Second-seeded in the second-tier Challenger Tour event being played in Ramat Hasharon, Lu was leading German Benjamin Becker 6-3, 3-1 and had just saved a break point when Becker pulled out with an ailing right shoulder.

In accepting the trophy, Lu fondly recalled Ramat Hasharon as the place where he won singles and doubles titles in the same week for the first time in his career, during a third-tier Futures event in 2002, his second year as a pro. He said it made him very happy to be able to return and win a higher-level singles event.

The title could not have come at a better time. Lu had failed to win more than two matches in any tournament this year, and entering the week with a sore back that forced him to retire in the quarter-finals of a Challenger event in Tenerife, Spain, last week, the world No. 67 did not know what to expect.

But he swept through his five matches without losing a set and rarely found himself in trouble against the dangerous Becker, who has been ranked as high as No. 38 and had won his last two tournaments, both Challenger events on hard courts.

Lu broke Becker in the fourth game of the first set and the third game of the second set to establish his superiority, while having to save only one break point, in what turned out to be the final game of the match when Becker was making a last stand.

“Holding my serve in that game was really key, because that led Becker to give in,” Lu said. “My return of serve was also very good and I was able to convert break opportunities when I got them.”

As was the case during much of the tournament, Lu had trouble with his first serve, getting it in at only a 49 percent rate, but managed to stay out of danger by winning 73 percent of his service points. He converted two of four break chances.

For winning the title, the 25-year-old earned US$14,400 and 90 ranking points, which will help offset the 186 points he will use later this month and preserve his high ranking.

Ranked in the top 70 since the beginning of the year, Lu has played mostly in top-tier ATP Tour events this year, making it more difficult to rack up victories and ranking points. But with the ATP Tour now focusing on clay, a surface the 25-year-old has never felt comfortable on, Lu is playing in hard court Challenger events to pick up points.

He is entered in another hard court Challenger tournament in Turkey this week, where he is the top seed and should not face much resistance before the quarter-finals. After that, he is scheduled to play in a clay court tourney in Austria ahead of the French Open.

■ITALIAN OPEN

AP, ROME

Top-ranked Dinara Safina won her first title of the year on Saturday by routing fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the Italian Open.

Safina avenged a loss to Kuznetsova in the final of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, a week ago. She had also lost two other finals this year, including the Australian Open.

■ESTORIL OPEN

AFP, ESTORIL, PORTUGAL

James Blake would have to engineer a serious comeback yesterday after his rain-interrupted Estoril Open semi-final against Nikolay Davydenko was suspended by darkness on Saturday.

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