Drama and skill: We just don’t know how lucky we are

Weekend Herald - - Tennis -

One of the best sport­ing con­tests seen on these shores played out at the ASB Clas­sic this week.

A match of supreme in­ten­sity, un­be­liev­able drama and su­perb skill.

And it fea­tured a rel­a­tively un­known Ger­man, who never had gone be­yond the quar­ter-fi­nal of an ATP event, against a low pro­file but highly-tal­ented Spa­niard.

The marathon quar­ter-fi­nal be­tween world No 58 Jan-Len­nard Struff and third seed Pablo Car­reno Busta will live long in the mem­ory of those in the ca­pac­ity crowd who wit­nessed it, along with ev­ery­one watch­ing on tele­vi­sion.

It was a thriller, es­pe­cially won by Struff 7-6 (5), 6-7 (6), 7-6 (7) and a re­minder of the on­go­ing qual­ity of this event.

Es­pe­cially af­ter all the hand wring­ing ear­lier this week fol­low­ing the ab­sence of some of the big­ger names, in­clud­ing To­mas Berdych, Roberto Bautista Agut and Gael Mon­fils.

Those who were ques­tion­ing the with­drawals don’t un­der­stand the re­al­i­ties of pro­fes­sional ten­nis.

And those who were de­bat­ing the strength of the field don’t know how good we have it.

Firstly, al­though Berdych and Mon­fils in par­tic­u­lar were losses, it’s part of the sport and hap­pens ev­ery year, es­pe­cially if play­ers have a strong tour­na­ment the week be­fore.

And oth­ers sto­ry­lines al­ways emerge. Cameron Nor­rie has been a fo­cal point.

In terms of the qual­ity of the field — in the im­mor­tal words of Fred Dagg — “We don’t know how lucky we are”.

The men’s ASB Clas­sic had 15 of the top 60 play­ers in the world in the main draw, plus a qual­i­fy­ing field fea­tur­ing sev­eral oth­ers in the top100. Look at golf, the other ma­jor global in­di­vid­ual sport.

The or­gan­is­ers of New Zealand’s ma­jor golf tour­na­ments would be do­ing cart­wheels if they even got a few names in the top-100 to come here. It just doesn’t hap­pen. And play­ers in the top-20? No chance.

Golf would kill for their equiv­a­lent of Struff (world No 58), Ten­nys Sand­gren (No 61) or Tay­lor Fritz (50).

But it’s not pos­si­ble be­cause, un­like in ten­nis with the Aus­tralian Open, there is no ma­jor to lure them to this part of the world.

The ASB Clas­sic has its niche, and as demon­strated by Struff and Car­reno Busta, can pro­duce un­be­liev­able con­test when least ex­pected.

Car­reno Busta saved nine break points in the first set alone, in­clud­ing four con­sec­u­tive set points in one ser­vice game, which stretched for 11 min­utes.

Af­ter the play­ers had split con­sec­u­tive tiebreak­ers, the fi­nal set was a beauty.

Car­reno Busta twice broke the tow­er­ing Struff — who was serv­ing bombs in ex­cess of 215km/h — but couldn’t hold.

The penul­ti­mate game of the fi­nal set was the best of the match.

Car­reno Busta fended off four match points in a row, with a re­mark­able dis­play of com­po­sure un­der pres­sure, be­fore flash­ing a back­hand win­ner down the line to take the game.

The sub­se­quent tiebreak had more twists, with both player hav­ing match points, be­fore Struff fi­nally con­verted his sev­enth in the 180th minute of an epic en­counter.

Michael Burgess

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