HONG KONG, Reuters
German Nicolas Kiefer coped expertly with the thunderbolt service game of Australia’s Mark Philippoussis to win the Hong Kong Open 7-6 (7-4) 2-6 6-2 on Sunday.
Kiefer, whose stated aim before the match was to complete a weekend of German sports glory, survived a mid-match slump before emulating Germany’s soccer team in their 1-0 defeat of England and Michael Schumacher in his World Championship-winning forumla One victory in Japan.
“It’s a great feeling. First our soccer team, then Michael Schumacher and now me. We did it,’’ said a happy Kiefer who ended last year ranked seventh in the world.
“I feel I’m playing good tennis at the moment. I think it is just a matter of time before I win my first Grand Slam,’’ added Kiefer who will now go to Tokyo to play in the Japan Open.
An erratic Philippoussis, ranked 14th in the world, was no match for the determined German who took psychological advantage when he won the first set on a tie-break.
Kiefer, ranked 18th, was put under enormous pressure from the start, surviving three breaks points in the first game of the match and then another two in the fifth game.
But he proved equal to the challenge and hung in, to force the tie-break.
Big-serving Philippoussis, who had blasted compatriot Patrick Rafter out in straight sets in the semifinals, came back strongly in the second set, breaking the German twice to win 6-2.
But it proved to be a false dawn. In the first game in the decider, Philippoussis lost his serve for the first time in the match, courtesy of two double faults and an unforced error.
Angry and frustrated, the giant Australian smashed his racket on the ground to earn a code violation.
“I don’t know where that game came from. I wish I hadn’t handed over to him like that. If he had played a great game it would have been different, but this was so frustrating,’’ said a disappointed Philippoussis.
Kiefer stayed cool to win the next game and then ensured his victory by breaking Philippoussis again in the third game to take a clear 3-0 lead before wrapping up the match.