By clinching Maharashtra Open title, Jiri Vesely back in winner’s circle

Shahid Judge
Maharashtra Open, Maharashtra Open finals, Maharashtra Open finale, Jiri Vesely, Egor Gerasimov, Tata Maharashtra Open, Sports news, Indian Express

Jiri Vesely beat Egor Gerasimov 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3 in the final. (Express Photo by Daniel Stephen)

Jiri Vesely waved his arms at the crowd as he hopped around court, asking for more noise, more cheer. It’s was a rhythmic exercise, almost as graceful as a dance – a dance of victory – as he ended the routine with a punch in the air and a roar of celebration. Everyone in the stands, even those who cheered for Vesely’s opponent Egor Gerasimov of Belarus, applauded the new Tata Open Maharashtra champion. And Vesely lapped it up. He enjoyed this feeling, he missed this feeling. The last time he felt it was when he won his first and only ATP-level title five years ago in Auckland.

But on Sunday, at a packed centre court at the Balewadi Tennis Stadium in Pune, those thoughts came rushing back as he served out the match and the tournament to register a 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3 win. And his struggles with injuries in the last few months made this win even sweeter.

“The win is very important. In every single year I had big success, like playing the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2016 and 2018. Always had some highlights but was never able to push it further,” says the world no 107 who will break back into the top 100 when the rankings are updated on Monday. “It’s very important to push the ranking up. I’m really happy that I’m back in the top 100 and it will guarantee me entry into some big events, which was the goal for the season. And it’s just the beginning of February.”

In the past few days, Vesely has spoken often about being ‘lucky’ on court. He faced two match points in his quarterfinal against Ilya Ivashka, and then four more in the semifinal against Ricardas Berankis. On Sunday though, all that hadn’t been working well for him, did at the right time.

At 30-40 in Gerasimov’s first service game in the third set, Vesely hammered home a cross-court forehand return deep into his opponent’s backhand side. The ball fell right into the corner leaving Gerasimov with no time to react. The southpaw from the Czech Republic got the break playing his least favourite shot.

“Amazing isn't it?” the Czech says, unable to hold back a laugh. “All week, I was struggling with my forehand. It’s been very tight and without much rhythm and then the deciding shot was actually a forehand return, which is even tougher.”

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Getting the break of serve came at a time when Gerasimov had been struggling to return Vesely’s towering serves. The 26-year-old former world no. 35 had been near flawless on his serve all week, raining down a tournament high 94 aces over the course of his five matches. In the final, he lost just seven points on his first serve, and when he took to the baseline to serve for the title at 5-4 in the third set, the first two points were aces, followed by a service winner, and then he finished off the match with a backhand that forced an error.

“The serve is crazy. It’s really tough,” Gerasimov opines after the match. “You cannot have any tactic when the opponent is serving like this.”

All through the week, when Vesely's shots faltered, his serve bailed him. It helped him stay in the match when he faced those six match points over the last two rounds. And by winning the title, he becomes the eight men’s singles player since 2013 to do so after saving match points in two matches over the event.

He also gets the distinction of being the lowest-ranked player to have won the Indian ATP in its 25 editions. But Vesely won’t care. He’s a former top-50 player who dropped down the chart due to injury. And now that he’s fit, and with his second tour title under the belt (which will take his ranking up to a possible 72), he’s back where he belongs – the upper echelons of the sport.

Maiden ATP title

Sweden’s Andre Goransson and Indonesia’s Christopher Rungkat paired up to beat the third-seeded pair of veteran Jonathan Erlich and Andei Vasilevski 6-2, 3-6, 10-8 in the doubles final for their first-ever ATP-level title.

Rungkat, who won the junior boys’ double title at the 2008 French Open, became the first player from his country to win a tour level event. “I’ve been a professional for 12 years,” says the 30-year-old, “I’ve been waiting for this title for a long time.”