Back-to-back successes put Johansson to fore

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sweden's Thomas Johansson yesterday achieved a perfect 10 in adding a fifth victory of the week at the Samsung Open to his quintet in Halle, Germany, recording the first back-to-back tournament victories on grass by anyone since Pete Sampras two years ago. Johansson's rewards were a cheque for £36,734, a digital camcorder from the sponsors and, perhaps best of all, the confidence that comes from a successful run on the green stuff going into Wimbledon, where he will be the 11th seed.

In the second round at the Championships, the Swede is due to meet Andy Roddick, who bowed down, literally and metaphorically, to Harel Levy in the semi-final here on Friday.

Johansson, the third seed, stood tall and took no longer than 74 minutes to take the final 7-5, 6-3. Having predicted a long match full of baseline rallies, he seemed happy to settle for that, even at the end of a tiring fortnight. Levy, more impatient – or imaginative – tried to mix things up, bringing his trademark backhand drop volleys into play, only for the shot to betray him at two crucial moments.

When the first 14 points of the match went to the server, Johansson must have felt that he was in for a repeat of his previous matches against the heavy-serving Wayne Arthurs and Greg Rusedski. But Levy finally proved vulnerable at 5-6, making a horrible hash of his favourite shot and saving only one set point before Johansson passed him with a scorching backhand down the line for 7-5.

An early finish seemed likely as the Swede broke to lead 3-1 in the second set, when Levy netted a drop-shot once more. This time, he retrieved the error by breaking back immediately after Johansson's rare double fault. But a final decisive break went the third seed's way in the eighth game, when Levy lost a 30-0 lead and then submitted as the Swede served out for the championship.

Levy said that he was still feeling a hip problem emanating from his victory over Roddick. "It was bothering me a bit and it was difficult serving," he admitted. He is hoping for an improvement before Wimbledon, where he has been elevated to a seeding following the withdrawals of Magnus Norman and Nicolas Lapentti.

Levy, the first Israeli in the top 100 since Amos Mansdorf, has been improving slowly throughout the year. Dumped out in the first round at Queen's, Levy has made better use of his time on the grass in the past week, culminating in splendid successes against Wayne Ferreira, the No 2 seed, and Roddick. As a result, he has moved closer to his two principal aims of reaching the world's top 30 – after last week, he will have only a few places more to go – and increasing interest in tennis in his native land, where yesterday's match was televised live.

While the Nottingham crowd would doubtless have preferred a final between Rusedski and Roddick, neither of the beaten semi-finalists was particularly upset to have missed out on another match. Johansson admitted that he would not know until this week whether he has played too much over the past fortnight.

Comments