Tennis: Stoltenberg spreads wings

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The Independent Online
JASON STOLTENBERG does not fit the tennis player's stereotype. His glasses, which he wears while playing, make him more Clark Kent than anything extraordinary and the baseball cap pulled tight over his eyes gives him a bookish look. Yesterday he showed the force cloaked by this appearance by winning the Direct Line Insurance Manchester Open.

The 6-1, 6-3 win over his fellow Australian Wally Masur was his first ATP tournament victory in a professional career that began six years ago and which looked to be in jeopardy last Christmas. Last year he lost more than six months because of a shoulder injury and dropped from 71 to 169 in the rankings. 'I had surgery, but even then there was no guarantee I would would be able to play without pain,' he said.

Before yesterday he still had not risen above 111 which makes the 23-year-old from New South Wales, who is restored to full fitness, a rare animal. Very few tournaments are won by players outside the top 100 and to prevail he had to beat a player 90 places above him who had won their previous three meetings. The odds were against Stoltenberg; instead it was a relatively simple affair.

Masur, 30, was broken twice in both sets, the younger man's returns, particularly on the backhand wing, inflicting so much damage that he won only seven of the 19 points played on his second serve. He showed no nerves, only a complete disregard for a reputation on the other side of the net which places Masur in the world's top 30 and probably in the top 16 when it comes to grass surfaces.

Stoltenberg's own serve, which reaped four aces, was near-impregnable, coming under pressure only once when Masur had a break point in the sixth game of the second set. That was seen off with some thundering serves which were the prelude to four successive games.

'I don't think I played badly,' Masur said, 'he didn't let me get into it. I remember playing Brad Drewett in a final when he was in his thirties and I was in my early twenties and I just swung free and didn't give a chance to play. The same thing happened to me today.'

Stoltenberg, who began playing tennis when his father built him a court in Narabri with chicken wire for netting, had his success enhanced by the presence of his parents. 'To have them here is fantastic, a very fulfilling experience,' he said. This is the best moment of my career.'