Newly turned 29-year old Jan Mertl from the Czech Republic is our first featured player of the New Year. The former ATP Top 200 ranked player, a 2-time singles champion on the ITF Pro Circuit in 2010, played his first three indoor tournaments of the year in the European nation of Germany.
January began for Mertl as the 5th seed in the singles event at the ITF Pro Circuit tournament held in the southwestern German town of Schwieberdingen. He was also entered into the doubles event as 3rd seed with Roman Jebavy but their participation in this event was over before it had begun due to a shoulder injury to Jebavy forcing them to withdraw.
Looking for his first title in Germany for two years, Mertl opened with straight sets wins over two German players to reach the quarterfinal and a meeting with the Slovak top seed, Miloslav Mecir, whose father of the same name is a 2-time Grand Slam runner-up and long serving Slovak Davis Cup captain.
A tough match was expected but with a 62 64 win Mertl quickly progressed to the semifinal stage. In this round he took on Latvian No. 3 seed Andis Juska who he last met and defeated in the final of an ITF Pro Circuit tournament in December 2008. There was, however, to be no repeat of that victory as two contrasting sets saw the Latvian run out a 76(3) 61 winner. Juska went on to take the title.
Next, Mertl took part in the ITF Pro Circuit tournament staged in Stuttgart, the capital of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg in southern Germany. He did not enter into the doubles event this time and was an unseeded player in the singles draw. The opening round saw him taking on last week’s semifinal opponent, Andis Juska, now the eighth seed.
The champion in Schwieberdingen, Juska’s tournament came to an early end in Stuttgart as Mertl exacted his revenge to score a 63 63 victory and level the win-loss record against Juska to 2-2 since their first encounter in early December 2008. In his second round match, Mertl had to come from behind to defeat Jan-Lennard Struff and then a straight sets win over the No. 3 seed, Dieter Kindlmann, saw him reach the semifinal once again.
If he was to avoid the heartache of suffering another semifinal defeat he would have to see off the challenge from Russia’s Denis Matsukevitch. Mertl won the first set 63 and never looked back as he raced through the second set with the loss of just two games to book his place in the final and a singles meeting with Romanian opposition for the first time in his professional career.
His opponent, the No. 4 seed Marius Copil, who had entered the tournament by accepting a Wild Card into the qualifying event, gained the advantage in this title showdown by taking the first set 63.
A set down and giving away 9-years to his opponent, things were looking tough for Mertl, but, as they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In the second set Mertl reversed the score line of the opening set to level the match and now in the ascendancy he pushed on to take the title, recording a 36 63 64 triumph, taking his ITF Pro Circuit career Futures singles title count into double figures.
Following on from this success, Mertl travelled to Kaarst, a town in the west of Germany, for his final tournament of the month. At this tournament Mertl found himself back among the seeds as he was named the seventh seed in the singles event. This tournament also saw a return to doubles competition with Roman Jebavy; together they had the No. 2 seeding.
Seemingly recovered from his shoulder injury sustained at Schwieberdingen the pair had little trouble reaching the semifinal where their run was ended by the British pairing and eventual runners-up Chris Eaton & Alexander Slabinsky in a tense 64 46 [10-8] loss. In the singles event things were proving hard. Two wins over qualifiers in the opening two rounds of 63 76(4) and 64 64 allowed Mertl to progress through the draw to a quarterfinal match with Marcel Zimmermann, the No. 3 seed from Germany.
A second consecutive 64 64 win saw him reach the semifinal round for the third tournament in a row this month. Blocking his path to the final was French No. 2 seed Ludovic Walter, who was playing in his 20th ITF Pro Circuit semifinal. Eight times previous, Walter had emerged victorious in semifinal matches but he wasn’t to make it nine as Mertl ran out a winner in three sets, winning 64 26 62.
Mertl, now into the final, had the chance to win back-to-back titles for only the second time.
To achieve this feat, which he first did when winning his only two titles of 2010, he would have to defeat Chris Eaton from Great Britain, playing his second career singles final and was the only British player to have ever defeated him in six meetings. Eaton, who had lost out on the doubles title the previous day, provided Mertl with yet another close match but with a 75 64 victory it was Mertl who was celebrating another title win while Eaton had to settle with collecting a second runners-up trophy in as many days.