How sweet it is
Ryan Sweeting earns first tour victory and newcomer-to-watch status at RiverOaks tourney
The U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships lived up to its reputation as fertile ground for crowning new stars.
With a cast of winners that includes Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish before they ascended to the top of the rankings, 23-year-old American Ryan Sweeting outlasted 21-year-old Kei Nishikori of Japan to win a hard-fought final 6-4, 7-6 at River Oaks Country Club Sunday afternoon, in the youngest championship match of the ATP tour this year.
A gusty wind kept the players on their toes as they took turns lobbing arching ground shots, with Sweeting taking the first set. But for the young American in his first ATP final, the second set became a crucible, as Nishikori matched him game for game.
Sweeting seemed to be losing steam late in the set, making unforced errors and dropping serves into the net when Nishikori, a model of consistent and smart play, took a 5-4 lead. But on his serve, Sweeting fought through the frustration — he occasionally slammed the racquet against his leg or the ground when a shot hit the net or sailed long — to reach deuce over and over again, overcoming three set points.
With the crowd loudly on his side (excepting two fans holding up a sign in Japanese for Nishikori), Sweeting regained his footing and in the end it was a pair of errant shots by Nishikori that kept the set going. The duo treated viewers to a flurry of long rounds, often punctuated by spectacular saves and a solid net game, but Sweeting's momentum propelled him to a win in a tiebreaker.
With the winning shot, Sweeting collapsed onto the ground, savoring his first-ever ATP victory. But in the end both players had a good day, with Sweeting jumping over 20 spots in the ATP rankings to a career-high No. 71 and Nishikori breaking into the top 50 for the first time.
"The crowd — you guys are unbelievable, unbelievable," Sweeting told Houston fans as he accepted the trophy. "I can't wait to come back and defend the title next year."