Mohammad Niyaz fought from two sets down - saving a match-point in the third - to complete a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(7), 6-3, 6-4 win over Irfan Hussain in the tennis singles final for the Stanley Cup at the Bertram Memorial tournament here on Saturday. The final began on Friday evening, but fading light pushed the final set to the next morning.

The match showcased two entirely different styles of play. The broad-shouldered Irfan, a twelfth standard student from Akshaya Matriculation School, smacked flat forehands from the baseline, taking the ball at the top of its bounce with his feet off the ground. Niyaz, a second year Economics student at Loyola College, delayed his groundstrokes a split-second longer, and mixed the pace and angle of his shots to make Irfan scurry.

The fifth set’s postponement should ideally have helped both players recover from the gruelling action of the first four, in what was the first ever five-set match of both players’ careers. However, Irfan looked weary, and his movement stifled. Repeatedly, Niyaz caught him leaden-footed in the middle of the baseline. Even so, the set went with serve until the tenth game, where Niyaz hit a ruthless peak and despatched three winners, including successive forehand passes either side of Irfan.

Early troubles

During the first two sets on Friday, Niyaz frequently overshot the lines, and more often failed to clear the net with his backhands. Spotting this, Irfan directed plenty of traffic to that side, low balls and high. Even though he dropped serve early in the first set, Irfan broke Niyaz thrice in succession - twice in the first set and in the opening game of the second.

At 1-all in the third, Irfan broke again, and found himself serving for the match at 5-4. But a double fault, followed by two backhand errors brought Niyaz level. In the tie-break Niyaz saved a matchpoint at 5-6, and earned a mini-break at 7-all, dragging Irfan wide with an angled backhand crosscourt to set up a simple volleyed winner. A netted return on Niyaz’s next serve gave him the set. His confidence restored, Niyaz pushed on, breaking twice to take the fourth set under the darkening sky.

Keywords: Stanley cupChennaiTennis

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