This turned into a memorable month for Austrian Gerald Melzer as he reached his first ITF Pro Circuit singles finals of his career to date and is our featured player for September.
The Vienna born 20-year old, brother of high ranking ATP star Jurgen Melzer, had never progressed beyond the quarterfinal stage coming into this month but by the end of September this record had dramatically changed.
Scheduled to compete in three ITF Pro Circuit tournaments on the African continent, Melzer began as the eighth seed at a tournament held in Burundi’s capital city of Bujumbura, located on the northeastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Following two straight sets victories in the opening rounds, Melzer found himself up against the No. 1 seeded player, India’s Rupesh Roy, in the quarterfinal. The top seed took the opening set 75 leaving Melzer wondering if his quarterfinal jinx was set to strike again! The second set was even closer than the opener and at 6-all the players entered into a tiebreak. Determined to at least force the match into a deciding set Melzer raced through the tiebreak without loss of a point. In keeping with the standard of play witnessed throughout the match so far, the final set also saw both players put up a real fight until, leading 65, the moment Melzer had been waiting for finally arrived as he took the next game to wrap up a 57 76(0) 75 triumph and move into his first ever singles semifinal on the ITF Pro Circuit. Not content with this, Melzer quickly saw off his semifinal opponent 62 63 to reach his career first professional singles final and it was too get better still. His opponent in the title match was Bart Govaerts from Belgium who, coincidentally, was also featuring in his career first singles final. This was the second meeting between the two players having met before in Morocco during 2009 where Melzer won in three sets. This time, however, he only required the two as he took the title 62 64. The doubles event saw him partnering Egyptian Mohamed Safwat for the first time and together they were eliminated in the semifinals having scored an impressive win over the No. 1 seeds in the quarterfinals.
Rwanda was the next destination and a tournament near the geographic centre of the nation in the capital city of Kigali. Unseeded but full of confidence following his triumph in Burundi Melzer reeled off a run of straight set victories as he appeared to ease through the draw and into a second successive final. Among these victories were consecutive wins over seeded opposition starting with a 61 64 second round win over the Dutch No. 1 seed Matwe Middelkoop. Melzer then followed this up with wins over Moroccan Anas Fattar (seeded sixth) in the quarterfinals and then booked his place in the final with a semifinal win, 60 61, over the No. 4 seed from Romania, Bogdan-Victor Leonte. In the final he met a fellow unseeded player Stanislav Vovk who had defeated the second seed in round two. The opening set of this final was closely fought and only a tiebreak could separate the two players with Melzer taking it 10-8. Melzer then pushed on from here and dominated the second set and soon secured his second singles title with a winning score of 76(8) 60. As in Burundi, Melzer teamed up with Mohamed Safwat and the pair emulated their feat of the previous week as they reached the semifinals.
The final stage of his African adventure took him to Uganda. Once again seeded eighth, Melzer continued where he left off in Rwanda as he opened his account in the capital city of Kampala with three more straight sets victories to reach the semifinals. Here he met his opponent from last week’s semifinal, Bogdan-Victor Leonte, who was again seeded fourth. There was no repeat of the 60 61 win enjoyed by Melzer in that encounter as the first two sets were shared, both winning on tiebreaks. With a place in the final up for grabs for the winner of the deciding set both players continued to play a high standard of tennis and in the end with a 67(6) 76(4) 63 win it was Melzer who was to contest yet another final in Africa. The conqueror of the top seed in the first round, Takanyi Garanganga of Zimbabwe, was now all that stood between Melzer and a third straight title. The final between the two was evenly contested and Melzer just edged it to win 64 64 to find himself in the now familiar company of the winners trophy. The doubles event saw him once again bow out in the semifinals with partner Mohamed Safwat.
Well, this trip into Africa will certainly be a most memorable one for Gerald Melzer. Having never previously been past the quarterfinal stage of a singles event on the ITF Pro Circuit he now found himself leaving with three titles.
These victories have helped elevate Melzer almost 300 places up the ATP Rankings ladder and into the Top 500 for the first time and if he can carry this form into the remainder of the season he should continue his rapid rise up rankings.
Jurgen, watch out!