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Ivan Ljubicic overcomes Jiri Vanek

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TOUGH CUSTOMER: Kristof Vliegen of Belgium who beat Rainer Schuettler of Germany on Thursday. Photo: R. Ragu
TOUGH CUSTOMER: Kristof Vliegen of Belgium who beat Rainer Schuettler of Germany on Thursday. Photo: R. Ragu

Nandita Sridhar

Chennai: He came, he saw, he waited. His opponent didn't show up till the fag end of the first set, before which the racket strings had somehow weathered a storm of serves, forehands and volleys.

But to his opponent's credit, once he arrived, he made sure that Ivan Ljubicic and the ball were seldom in the same place and managed to take the match to a third set, when it seemed like it was going to be over even before Jiri Vanek had somehow groped and found his game on Centre Court.

He finally walked out, losing to Ljubicic 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, in the second round of the Chennai Open at the Nungambakkam Stadium, on Thursday.

You need only a pair of eyes to figure out Ljubicic's strength. He serves the ball like he fears touching it again and breaking him was always going to be a massive task. Vanek knew a thing or two about that. The first set was filled with a pot-pourri of Ljubicic serves and some solid baseline play.

Ljubicic does not belong to the fist-pumping and grunting kind and even his half-hearted attempts managed to fetch him the points.

Frustrated

In the second set, Vanek decided that he somehow had to try or just say goodbye. He decided to mirror Ljubicic's serves and it wasn't such a bad reflection after all.

He broke Ljubicic in the second game itself and Ljubicic's racket strings took revenge for all the first set battering by sending the ball outside the line of control on more than one occasion, and a volley that flew outside clinched the break of serve for Vanek.

Ljubicic let out his frustration with a few words which seemed to be for the sole privilege of his wife, because it fell on deaf ears as far Vanek was concerned and the Czech continued mixing it up, showing equal ease on the baseline and coming to the net too.

In the decider, Ljubicic found his touch again. Up 2-1 with Vanek serving, both players matched each other serve by serve and shot by shot. Vanek came up with some splendid placements and passing shots, with one nearly missing Ljubicic's tennis blacks, only for him to find the net at crucial junctures.

Ljubicic's serves meanwhile were becoming deadlier and Vanek might have considered an armour on a couple of occasions. Vanek signalled his service game gift to Ljubicic with a shot resembling something like a cricketing square-cut that simply flew to the crowds.

It was always going to be difficult after that, with Ljubicic not ready to give it up, and after attempting a swivel backhand and shots that nearly smashed a few pots, he was serving for the match and gobbled it up, after another wrong shot at the wrong time by Vanek, which flew out.

"They may not be big names, but they are tough players. I did not play well today, compared to the first match, and the transition between day and lights might have affected me too," he said after the match.

Ljubicic rarely looked like breaking 100m records and his mobility has been a little suspect. "It is very difficult to practise things like this. Some things just come with matches," said Ljubicic.

A Chennai Open regular, Rainer Schuettler was beaten by Kristof Vliegen 6-2, 6-4, in the second round.

Starting troubles did not make it easy for Schuettler, who was broken in the first game itself. He made up for it in the second set with a break of serve, when he was 2-1 up, but lost it immediately after that.

With the set level at 4-4, Vliegen broke him again and then went on to take the set and the match.

Moya survives

On Wednesday, Carlos Moya survived a Justin Gimelstob scare, dropping the first set in the second round too.

The only difference this time was the scoreline which finally read 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

More than Gimelstob's winners, it was Moya's unforced errors that nearly turned his nemesis.

Leading 3-2 in the second set, Moya made sure he did not leave his fans heart broken by breaking Gimelstob's serve and clinching the set.

The decider was close and after a crucial line-call with Gimelstob serving at 30-40 going Moya's way, a dash of dodge-ball and some superb serving saw the Spaniard prevail. "Nobody is easy these days. It is not too bad winning the first two matches of the year," said Moya.

Cash-Rastogi lose

Pat Cash's comeback was short (53 minutes), but not sweet. Partnering Karan Rastogi, he lost to Rainer Schuettler and Alexander Waske 2-6, 2-6.

"He is inexperienced and I'm rusty, but I enjoyed it," said Cash. "It was a good experience playing with Cash," said the Indian lad.

Wednesday's results: Singles (second round): Carlos Moya bt Justin Gimelstob 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles (first round): Rainer Schuettler-Alexander Waske bt Pat Cash-Karan Rastogi 6-2, 6-2; Michal Mertinak-Petr Pala bt Tomas Cibulec-David Skoch 7-6(4), 3-6, 10-8.

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