For the first time in history, the ITF Men’s Pro Circuit found its way to Micronesia with the staging of the first $10,000 Futures event in Guam last week where the warmth of the welcome was only outdone by the heat throughout the week.
The entire island which is populated with 170,000 people seemed to be 100% behind the event with spectators clambering for positions from the start of the qualifying event. The local newspaper, radio and television were daily attendees with the event catching everyone’s attention. With the original field showing representatives from nearly 20 countries and the quality of tennis did not disappoint. Almost every person who witnessed the many torrid and exhausting battles was heard to say “This is great for Guam”. Tournament Director, Torgun Smith, also the National Coach, laid the master plan for the event over a year earlier and his enthusiasm was certainly rewarded and his efforts should be commended.
The island of Guam has so much beauty to offer, especially with the picturesque underwater world of Tumon Bay on which the Guam Hilton (Tournament site) is harboured. Players marvelled at the astounding scenery and sunsets on the island and all who played this year were sure to be putting Guam on their calendar next year. Tatsuma ITO (Japan) was the benefit of a late Wildcard into the event trying to balance a trip to Guam with his upcoming visit to Wimbledon qualifying. His decision to make the trip across to Guam proved to be a smart one as he eclipsed the field to win his first Pro Circuit event of the year.
In the first round, locals were out in force to see local favourite Justin Dugan (WC) be the first to attempt to knock the top seed off his perch. Despite his local knowledge and familiarity with the stifling heat, Ito’s experience and ball striking was too good on the day and he won 60 61. Taking on Qualifier Jae‐Bin Jeon (KOR) in the second round, Ito was similarly impressive wasting no time overcoming the challenger 63 61 to set up a quarterfinal showdown with compatriot Takuto Niki.
The Friday was extremely hot and after some tough early exchanges, Ito gained the ascendancy, and on a day when only the toughest survived, Ito prevailed 62 61. In the semis, Ito faced Toshihide Matsui who had been equally impressive in his march to the latter stages of the event, most importantly a 61 57 60 victory over up and coming junior Japanese superstar Hiroyasu Ehara. Matsui did well to repel the youngsters charge and experience held firm in the third set.
In the bottom half of the draw, all four seeded players advanced uneventfully to the quarter finals. Tasuku Iwami seeded No. 5 sprung a minor upset when he ousted 4th seed Arata Onozawa. After a tense first set, Iwami waltzed away with the second set winning 76(8) 62. Australia’s Joel Lindner was the only person who could stop the first Guam title heading to Japan. Hitting the court with a plan of finishing rallies off quickly, Lindner blasted away with his serve and ground strokes and had 2nd seed Junn Mitsuhashi very much on the back foot.
Mitsuhashi’s counter punching was raised to its highest level for the week and he was forced to use every ounce of his tenacity to hold Lindner at bay. The match in the end was decided by a point here and there in both tie breaks with Mitsuhashi finally triumphing 76(5) 76(2), Lindner left to rue missed opportunities.
The Aussies loss guaranteed a Japanese victor in the first Guam Futures event. The two semis finals were played in different styles with the top half encounter between Ito and Matsui presenting a juicy battle of the top seed’s subliming timing off the ground, and his opponent’s desire to get to the net and command the forecourt at every available opportunity. Try as he would Matsui found over and over that his confident combatant loved a target and more often not hit it dead on bullseye.
Early on ,the match was intense and the spectators were hopeful of a drawn out affair but a couple of heart breaking line calls in the second set seemed to take the wind out of the Matsui sails, and Ito marched to the final 63 63. The other semi was the epitome of the tennis ‘crowd pleaser’. Tasuku Iwami and Junn Mitsuhashi had faced each other often before, new each other’s games and the match lived up to every expectation.
The match had it all spectacular rallies, overrules, code violations, time violations, ruling challenges, and a toilet break that was a poorly veiled attempt to gain some respite in the air-conditioning (smart move) after the second set. See-sawing constantly for two and half sets, match points came and went in the second set tie break. The match was in the balance until a break in the early stage of the deciding set finally saw the ascendancy move into the Mitsuhashi court. It was a lead he did not relinquish, but the crowd was enthralled by the 75 67(11) 62 score line.
The Finale to a Great week
Over 300 of Guam’s tennis fans packed into the scenic Guam Hilton resort venue for the final. Fifteen officials and the 30 ballkids who had worked in the heat all week were also on hand for the first Pro final in Guam for almost 20-years. A year of hard work and organisation had gone into this day and to some the result was inconsequential. Guam had proven once again it should rightly hold a place on the ITF Pro Circuit Calendar.
No effort was spared in preparing the venue, from resurfacing, to the new backdrops, to the media input, to the huge volunteer support, to even having the Islands most important Orthopaedic surgeon on call for the week. The final itself was played on one of the hottest days of the week and the 3pm hit off didn’t seem to make any difference to the Ito charge to the title. Breaking early in the match with his usually trademark crisp strokes, Ito pushed a small lead to a place from where he would not be challenged.
Whilst the second set was more closely contested, Tatsuma Ito was well within his comfort zone in the final and he triumphantly greeted the enthusiastic crowd after his 62 64 domination.
The top seeds of Tasuku Iwami and Toshi Matsui came back from the brink to beat Christian Guevara (USA) and Ruben Gonzales (PHI) in the doubles final 36 75 10‐4. The entire tennis world with descend on Guam for next year’s event such was the degree of unanimous praise for their first up effort. Some players even said they would return just to enjoy the warm Guam hospitality.
A fantastic venue, a fantastic place, and a brilliant event.