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Semis almost set after wild group drama

by Michael Augsberger, The Tennis Curator editor

Nsahno Ndonfack (Cameroon) leads William Freshwater (USA) in the last quarterfinal to finish, 4-2, suspended in the third set by rain. Photo by Niko Ziakas

Three quarterfinals are set. The most contentious one, however, remains in the balance. Cameroon's Nsahno Ndonfack sweated out a group finish that went down to the wire for him to qualify for the quarters. And then American William Freshwater, surprise conqueror of Group D, made him work that much more, until the rain came late in the third.

The match is suspended with Ndonfack serving up 4-2. It will continue Wednesday at 8:30 am, with the first semifinal beginning at 9 am, and the second after suitable rest for Ndonfack and Freshwater.

Both players tested the limits of their skill and their sportsmanship, not to mention the weather. Both of them want it that badly. Both fixated on the opponent's taunting, which toed the line but never crossed it for a penalty. The difference between celebrating and taunting is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

Early on, fiery C'mons and cries of Allez peppered the air. The competitors hoisted more line challenges than in the entire tournament combined. It is a fierce rivalry.

Ndonfack either seemed to realize it was slightly unraveling his opponent or that he needed the vocal boost himself. He certainly found more to celebrate, including one double fault that resulted in a warning. But he also could be said to use the furor to motivate him---surely a fire has been lit in him since his opening upset loss to Heyang Li, and if it took toeing the line, it's got him playing much better tennis.

Then as the third set began, drizzle slowly soaked the courts through, slowly down conditions and leaving both to wonder when the call would come to suspend play. Freshwater tried to stay on serve at 2-3 and could feel the more aggrieved by play continuing as the drizzle intensified but never reached full blast. He yielded the break under tough conditions.

"I mean, it's hard to hit an overhead through raindrops," Freshwater said on court. "And that's all he's been giving me lately."

"The court is slower," he said later. "I think that's what he wants."

The winner meets American Jack Ling, from Princeton, in Wednesday's semifinal.


Noah Kohn, USA, qualified in a dramatic group finish today before falling to top seed Simon Myslivec in the quarters. Photo by Niko Ziakas

Of the three quarterfinals that produced winners, one stood out for its thrilling first set tiebreak. Jack Ling (USA) edged countryman Graham Bourne 8-6 in the tiebreak and never looked back, taking the second set 6-3 to book his ticket to the semifinals.

Bourne earned his spot by taking a must-win final group match against favored Ramy El Shoubaki (MAR) in three sets. The big server has a game that even the ITF gentlemen don't see all that often these days, with tough volleys and long wingspan, and he was able to capitalize on it even on the clay.

Meanwhile, Ling goes to 4-0 and looks menacing.

Avenging his three-set loss earlier in the day to Freshwater to determine the Group D winner, Desmond Ayaaba (GHA) fended off a Heyang Li who had been 3-0 going into the match, 6-2, 6-3.

"One of the best tournaments in my life," Ayaaba said. "I'm really thankful for its organization and happy to be here in the semis. I played my best, having good results because I want to go home with something. That's important to me."

To him, his serve was a difference in the match, as well as his pace. "I have a very good serve. I wasn't waiting for him, I was aggressive. Keeping my first serve in and using pace against him so he couldn't hit it back as he always wanted."

Freshwater maybe be down 2-4 in his suspended third set, but Ayaaba knows he may still well meet him in the final. "Today it was his good return, and he keeps more balls in the court," Ayaaba said.

To get there he'll have to go through the well-oiled machine of Simon Myslivec (CZE), who accelerated past Academy player Noah Kohn (USA) without dropping a game. It was all Kohn could do to emerge from a group that included Ling, Ecuadorian Jose Andrade, and Korean Woo Hyeon Jung---a fine performance at a Cup event in which five higher-ranked players could not advance as far as he.

If there's an upside to Myslivec's performance for Ayaaba, it's the former's shoulder. Slight tenderness there will keep him looking at it, but it hasn't slowed him down quite yet.

The Myslivec-Ayaaba semifinal begins at 9 am ET and will be the headliner on the stadium TV court Wednesday. Ling awaits the rain-delayed quarterfinal to continue at 8:30 am ET.

Group A

Simon Myslivec* - Czech Republic

Graham Bourne* - United States

Ramy El Shoubaki - Morocco

Aryan Bonigala - United States


Show Court 2 displayed the popcorn match of the third round, a winner-take-all affair to determine second place in Group A. Bourne outlasted El Shoubaki 6-4 in the third set.

Group B

Jack Ling* - United States

Noah Kohn* - United States

Woo Hyeon Jung - Korea Republic

Jose Andrade - Ecuador

Kohn's victory over Andrade was in doubt until the end. "Finally!" the winner exhaled as he raised his arms, more relief than triumph as the first-set 6-1 scoreline seemed eons ago. He needed every ounce of mental strength to withstand Andrade's march back. In the end it was 6-4.

Sometimes it can be debilitating to play against someone with an injury, as Kohn found today. Andrade, despite dropping two matches yesterday, fought through a terrible blister on his racquet hand knowing the set and game difference chips could well fall his way in a three-way 1-2 tie.

He got the help he needed in the other match, Ling defeating Jung quickly. But Kohn managed to button up the second set to take the second-place ticket to the quarters, where Myslivec awaited him.

Group C

Heyang Li* - United States

Nsahno Ndonfack* - Cameroon

Gianluca Galasso - United States

Rushil Khosla - India

* advanced

The thrilling drama of the group stage found its epitome here. Going in, Ndonfack needed a win and help from Li, or a three-way tie at 1-2 among him, Galasso, and Khosla.

Galasso needed a win and an Ndonfack loss, or a three-way tie at 1-2 with favorable set difference. Khosla was on the outside looking in and needed a massive win and a Li rout.

Meanwhile, Li sat in the catbird seat at 2-0, but there were scenarios in which he could be eliminated with a straight-set loss.

As it turned out, Khoslas was not fit to go more than six games---but the games mattered immensely. It ended 3-3 before his retirement. So Ndonfack watched Li and Galasso, hoping for a Li win and at least for him to win a set.

Galasso made him worry. He won the first and led the second. It would've come down to game difference, and Galasso's was superior to the Cameroonian's. But Li stormed back to take the second set 7-5, which sealed the deal for Ndonfack on set difference.

In the end, Ndonfack went through on record alone when Li won the match.

Group D

William Freshwater* - United States

Desmond Ayaaba* - Ghana

Wian Roothman - South Africa

Michael Gurgenidze - United States

* advanced

It's proven to be perhaps the strongest group. Freshwater defeated Ayaaba in three sets on the grounds' second stadium court to claim the group. One is in the semis now, and the other may well be. Neither had elimination at stake, since they had two wins each compared to none for Roothman or Gurgenidze.

Roothman labored in the clay, but Gurgenidze's savvy got to him. The American took the tiebreak in the first set. Roothman retired once it was out of reach at 3-0 in the second. "We don't really have clay in South Africa," he said. "And my movement is crushing my legs and groin. I can barely slide."

Full Scores - Tuesday, Dec 20

Schedule of Play - Wednesday, Dec 21

8:30 am

Court 3: Quarterfinal resumes

Nsahno Ndonfack (CMR) leads William Freshwater (USA) 3-6, 6-2, 4-2

Ndonfack to serve

9 am, Semifinals

Court 2 (TV): Simon Myslivec (CZE) v Desmond Ayaaba (GHA)

Court 3: Jack Ling (USA) v Ndonfack / Freshwater


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