Spirited Lu goes down fighting in final

DOWN TO THE WIRE::Lu Yen-hsun performed excellently against world No. 14 John Isner in the Heineken Open final yesterday, never dropping a service and forcing tiebreakers

Staff writer, with agencies, AUCKLAND, New Zealand, and MELBOURN

Sun, Jan 12, 2014 - Page 20

Taiwan’s top tennis player Lu Yen-hsun was defeated 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (9/7) by third-seeded John Isner of the US in a tight final which had no service breaks at the Heineken Open in Auckland yesterday.

It was Lu’s first appearance in an ATP Tour event final.

A day earlier, Lu ousted world No. 3 and three-time defending champion David Ferrer in the semi-finals.

After causing one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, Lu was able to hold a tight match with world No. 14 Isner in the first set until the tiebreak.

However, Lu did not manage to find his rythm in time to beat Isner, who served 23 aces in the match, and lost the second set after another tiebreaker.

“I’ve been through injuries, I dropped my ranking and came back, and in the last few years I was really stable in the top 100,” Lu told the Associated Press. “But this was a really good step, to reach a final on the ATP Tour. I hope I can take this performance and go into next week [at the Australian Open] and the rest of the year.”

Isner, playing with a right-ankle injury he picked up at the Hopman Cup the previous week, took a crucial mini-break to open the first set tiebreaker. In the second tiebreaker, he rallied from 3-0 down and closed with an ace on his third championship point.

“This match was very tight as every match I’ve played this week was very tight,” Isner said. “I needed every bit of it to come out on top.”

Elsewhere, top-seeded Juan Martin del Potro outclassed defending champion Bernard Tomic 6-3, 6-1 yesterday in a 53-minute final of the Sydney International.

Del Potro finished the match with his eighth ace and made only four unforced errors in securing his 18th career title and first in Sydney.

He lost only six points on his serve and Tomic appeared dispirited after being broken to fall behind 4-1 in the second set.

“My forehand worked perfect, I made a lot of winners, many aces, played good slices,” Del Potro said. “Every long rally we played, I won all of them, which is good for my confidence. I think Bernard was a little frustrated to see me very focused on the match and hitting the ball so well.”

Tomic was more succinct.

“I got killed,” the 21-year-old Australian said. “There was nothing I could do.”

It is about to get more difficult for Tomic. His next match is against top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the first round of the Australian Open. Del Potro is also scheduled to play his first-round match on Tuesday — against a qualifier.

In the final of the Kooyong Classic exhibition event in Melbourne, Japan’s Kei Nishikori joined his coach Michael Chang as a tournament champion with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Tomas Berdych.

Nishikori, seeded No. 16 at the Australian Open, was watched by Chang, a former French Open champion and a three-time winner at the Melbourne venue in 1995 to 1997.

In the WTA event in Hobart, Spanish qualifier Garbine Muguruza defeated Klara Zakapalova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-0 to claim her first singles title.

The 20-year-old Muguzura, who did not drop a set from the qualifiers to the final, joins 2012 champion Mona Barthel as the only qualifiers to win the Hobart event.

Muguruza, ranked 58th, beat second-seeded and Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens in the quarter-finals, while Zakapalova defeated top-seeded and former US Open champion Sam Stosur in the semis.