Port ST Lucie, Florida – It proved to be a good day for South Africa around the tennis courts of Club Med Sandpiper Bay on Monday as two South Africans caused major upsets to reach the quarterfinals of the Nike Junior Tour International Masters.
Richard Thongoana scored the biggest upset of the tournament so far when he put out No 2 seed Alexei Popyrin of Australia 7-5 7-6(7-4). It was an encounter with twists and turns but the consistency of the South African won the day.
“I thought I had nothing to lose. I just had to play my game, stay focused and do my best,” Thongoana said.
The match started well with Thongoana getting an early break of serve and building a 4-1 lead. He had a number of break-point opportunities to go up 5-1 but Popyrin pulled some big shots from his arsenal to hold serve.
The momentum started to shift and Popyrin broke back and levelled the match at 4-4. When serving at 5-5 the South African faced a couple of break points but he had some luck when his shot clipped the top of the net and rolled over to save the first break point.
“In this sport, you need hard work and talent, but you need to be lucky sometimes and that was the luck,” Thongoana said.
He went on to win the game and lead 6-5.
“I think that was the game for the set. I really wanted that game and I knew he would be a bit rattled for the next game.”
Popyrin, however, turned things around in the second set to build up a 4-2 lead but then began to falter.
“In the second set he started to get more confident. He was hitting his forehand accurately and using the backhand down the line. He was being more aggressive and the best way to stop somebody from attacking you is to attack back and put a lot of pressure on him.”
Thongoana broke back, took the set to a tie-breaker and built up a 6-2 lead. Popyrin saved two match points but the South African pounced on a short ball to end the match.
Zani Barnard created the only upset in the girls draw when she put out seventh seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine 6-1 3-6 6-3 in a gruelling event which lasted one hour and 46 minutes.
The South African must have surprised her opponent – and maybe even herself – in the opening set as she produced some amazing tennis and wrapped it up in just 25 minutes.
“I hit a lot of winners in the first set and I think I just outplayed her. We both took a toilet break and when she came back she played better. She got warmed up in the match and I must give her credit, she really played well in the second set,” Barnard said.
“When we got into the third I thought I needed to get the first game but it all went wrong and I ended up 0-2 down and I started to panic.
“Fortunately I started to hit a lot of winners and got back to 2-2.”
The key game came when Barnard served for a 5-3 lead. The game lasted 16 points and Barnard had to ward off two break points before clinching the game on her third game point.
That hold of serve seemed to have winded the Ukrainian who timidly conceded the match in the next game. It was not a happy Yastremska who left the court.
“She obviously didn’t like losing to me because she broke five rackets after the match.” – Sapa