by Michael Augsberger, The Tennis Curator editor
Simon Myslivec (CZE) wins the championship over Jack Ling (USA) 6-0, 6-3.
Between the pomp of the national anthems and the circumstance of Bizet's overture on the podium, Simon Myslivec put on a bravura performance that suitably matched the high bar he'd set all week in Naples. He won the inaugural Teen World Open, the world's first tournament that funds ITF players in financial need from Africa, Asia, South America and Europe, created specifically for players like him whose ranking suffers only because they can't afford to play more often.
He took the final against America's Jack Ling, the young man he'd respected most and expected to meet here, in emphatic style. "I knew him from practice before the tournament," Myslivec said. "I knew it would be the biggest test for me." He faced it with the confidence of a top seed who had not dropped more than two games over two knockout stage matches and would presently concede just one more than that.
Ling, the Princeton product turned Naples local and homeschooled ace, forced himself to take more risks to combat the pressure under which Myslivec constantly kept him. He produced the shot of the match doing so, a running forehand cross-court winner deep in the second set. But by then it was past the point when the match could have conceivably turned.
After a twenty-minute first set that Myslivec dominated, Ling's best chance to reverse the Czech's march came at 1-1, 15-40. "Really good serves in the end of that game," Myslivec recalled. "It was an important moment. With new balls, he had won his serve first. He came out really aggressive then."
Myslivec held and then traded breaks. "Down 0-40 and that was the thing, I started sweating more and lost my grip on the racquet. One side was the better side with the sun and that's where I broke him back again." Thereon he kept holding serve en route to the title.
The two had practiced together last week and even played a set on hard courts, where Myslivec was able to break Ling only once in a 6-3 win. Today, on the green clay at Emilio Sanchez Academy, he broke five times and saved all but one of the five break points he faced. Most of the time Myslivec was content to pressure Ling into errors, forcing him to risk foraging for new sustenance or else face extinction. Most of Ling's attempts for winners missed just wide. Yet when Myslivec had to downshift and accelerate, he fired in powerful forehand winners and approached net wisely, winning all but once there.
Ling's plan to play his first serve as often as possible paid off, and he never double faulted, but Myslivec commanded too much control on both first and second serve return points.
What the final lacked in drama, the third place match provided in spades. Cameroon's Nsahno Ndonfack and Ghana's Desmond Ayaaba made up for lost time; yesterday less than an hour each on semifinal courts, today a marathon thriller. That makes two three-set comebacks polished off with the tightest tiebreak victory possible in a row on the very same court for Ndonfack. He certainly rose to the occasion in the business end of this Teen World Open.
In the end Ndonfack took home the bronze and Ling the Sportsmanship Award as well as the silver. But Teen World Open 2022 will be remembered for two Ndonfack matches-of-the-tournament and one dominant Czech player who reminded at least one fan of the great Ivan Lendl.
"I'm glad to have the invitation to play here," Myslivec said. "It's really good help for me. I advise everyone to take this opportunity. I could connect this tournament with Orange Bowl and got to make sure I could stay in the US for the whole thing. Everyone like me who's dealing with the money problems, it's so important."
The champion had won the first round of qualies at the Orange Bowl before falling in a second-set tiebreak to a French player. Ordinarily that would mean his American trip would be over, with the expensive travel rearrangements that come with that.
"Here it's something different with the group stage. So many guys who lost a match, or had to retire dealing with injury, they got to play the same number of matches as me, who went all the way to the final."
From here, Myslivec will play at Florida Atlantic University, but not before he takes time off for Christmas and school exams. He's been studying religiously in his off time in the Academy dining hall. "I signed with FAU while I was here in the US," he said, "and the other guys got great introductions to college coaches, too."
He'll keep his eye on Futures events in February. Those who would write the future of the Teen World Open will be compared to its first champion and his weeklong, authoritative display.
Full Scores - Thursday, Dec 22