Thursday, March 6, 2008

Evgeny Korolev Needs 11 M.P. to Oust Fernando Gonzalez

Evgeny Korolev
Evgeny Korolev Needs 11 M.P. to Oust Fernando Gonzalez

Chilean Fernando Gonzalez became the lastest seeded casualty at the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas despite saving 10 match points to force a second set tie-break, succumbing to Russian youngster Evgeny Korolev 6-3, 7-6(4) on Thursday in Las Vegas.

"It was a great match for me," said Korolev. "I was feeling really great. The conditions today, everything was perfect. I found my touch, I found my game."

Korolev ran off four straight games against the No. 1 seed in the second set, and with a break in the seventh game to go up 5-2, put himself in a position to serve for the match. But he squandered three match points before being broken, and then failed to convert on two more match points on Gonzalez's serve in the ninth game.

The tenth game was a tightly played marathon. Korolev raced to a 40-15 lead, but Gonzalez was able to level the game score. On each of the first two deuce points Korolev was able to get an advantage, but again Gonzalez leveled the score. After saving a break point, Korolev got his fifth match point of the game, and 10th of the afternoon. He lost that point, and the next two, handing the game to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez held to love in the 11th game, but Korolev was able to serve out the 12th game to force a tiebreak. Gonzalez took a 4-3 lead in the tie-break, but Korolev did not surrender another point in closing out the match.

"I was a little bit surprised, a little bit nervous, a little bit pissed," said Korolev about his missed chances. "I was really, really down when it came to 5-all, and I lost the game easy. Then somehow I got back and decided to fight. I was a little bit lucky I won it at the end of the tie-break."

With the loss, Gonzalez followed No. 2 and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt out of the main draw, who along with No. 5 Potito Starace and No. 8 Nicolas Kiefer had bowed out in second round action on Wednesday. Gonzalez, who won the Vina del Mar title in his last appearance in early February, now falls to a 7-2 record for the season.

Korolev, No. 100 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, reached the semifinals last year in his Las Vegas debut and will attempt to advance to his second ATP quarterfinal of 2008. He reached the Sydney quarterfinals as a qualifier in the second week of the season (l. to Santoro).

Latvian teenager Ernests Gulbis also secured his place in the quarterfinals as defeated Australian qualifier Peter Luczak 6-2, 6-1 in 54 minutes. He fired 12 aces and broke Luczak's serve five times in nine chances.

The 19-year-old Gulbis is making his debut in Vegas, and moves through to an ATP quarterfinal for just the third time in his career. His prior showings came the last two years in St. Petersburg.

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AP Photo/Jae C. Hong