Phuong came out firing, yet again.
If you had not known Viet and Phuong and saw the match on TV, you would have thought you were seeing a skinny guy getting thrashed by a robot. No, it was not that Phuong’s strokes looked mechanical; he was just too accurate and consistent.
When the two came out on court, the atmosphere was a bit different from a typical semifinal—it was rather subdued. The players were quite relaxed and the spectators mostly silent. Viet and Phuong said they knew the other’s game inside out, being close friends and playing in the same tennis club.
After failing to convert the only break point in the first game, Viet committed several double faults to gift the second game away. The pressure on him just kept building. Phuong‘s tactics included drawing Viet to positions where he’s most vulnerable, and it paid dividends. Viet either found himself in the middle of the court as the ball flied past him or flat-footed at the net as Phuong produced a sensational lob time and time again.
In less than 30 minutes, Phuong cruised to a 5-0 lead. The 6th game saw lengthy exchanges of ground strokes in which no player seemed willing to give in. After 10 minutes, with 5 deuces, Viet finally got on the boards. However, there was no trouble for Phuong holding his serve in the next game.
In the second set, Viet found himself reverting between passive and aggressive play, trying to find the answer. In fact, he did not play bad at all. But against the athlete with amazing defensive skills in the form of Phuong, it seemed like Viet had to produce several winners to win a point. And everything Viet could do, Phuong could do at least slightly better, with accuracy to boot. He committed merely 5 unforced errors as he soared to the final in a convincing fashion: 6-1, 6-0.
Binh and Cuong fought for the other spot in the final. For the first time in the tournament, the stage’s set at Mitchell Park, and spectators turned out in droves to support their stars.
It had been a good ride for Binh, who had not dropped a set this tournament. In fact, no opponent had managed to get more than 3 games in any set against him. On the other hand, Cuong, the Viet-Google champion lost the first set in the quarterfinal but staged a fantastic comeback to reach the semifinal.
Early in the match, Binh and Cuong played a bit cautiously, with Binh not willing to go for the lines and Cuong not charging to the net as often as he usually did. After falling behind 2-0 in the first set, Cuong started to be more aggressive with his net play and it seemed to work. He collected the first game of the match to get on the boards.
However, Binh was particularly steady today. Hitting with controlled-aggression, attacking equally well on both wings of the court, and redirecting the ball at ease, Binh dictated the flow of the games. Cuong tried to disrupt this by mixing up his play but his ground strokes weren’t quite penetrating and his net play a bit rushing. Of course, it was hard to feel comfortable when your opponent played with such great anticipation whenever you move into the net. Binh produced some thrilling lobs and passing shots to garner another break and a 4-1 lead.
He moved full steam ahead, starting to go for the lines. His trademark flat potent forehand featured more and more and Cuong quickly lost grounds and surrendered the first set 6-1.
The first set also saw an interesting incident. Chair umpire Minh Dang was too busy chatting with supporters to keep track of the scores. Some hilarious score miscounts ensued and he was duly invited to leave to have more time for chit-chat, and Minh Do replaced him as chair umpire.
Early in the second set, Cuong dug deep, trying to stage a comeback. Speeding up his footwork, he stayed in the contest for almost every point, sprinting from one side of the court to the other. Also hitting with more depth, and placing some drop shots with pinpoint accuracy, Cuong shifted the momentum tremendously. The audience had a chance to see some glorious tennis from both players, as Cuong edged to a 3-1 lead in the second set. He seemed to find his game again, the form that saw him dispatch Minh Tran in his quarterfinal.
Binh refused to give an inch however, and kept pounding, making Cuong work extra hard, chasing every ball. Cuong struggled for breadth after every point. After the grueling first 6 games of the second set that lasted almost an hour, he eventually lost the advantage and the score was leveled at 3-3.
However, the running took its toll Cuong's signs of fatigue became apparent. At 0-30, he called out for the trainer and complained of cramps in his legs and had a brief medical time-out.
The crowd’s chanting his name as he returned. However, Cuong could not keep up with Binh’s intensity. His hindered movement was fully exposed, rendering him more vulnerable than ever. Across the net, Binh still looked very fresh; his explosive attacks kept coming in full force. After a forehand cross-court winner that ripped through the court, he sealed the second set 6-3 and a chance at tennis glory.
So it will be a Vietbay-Vietstan battle in the final as promised, and it will be power vs. consistency as predicted. The pundits cannot be more divided on this match—after all, the finalists are both very complete players in their own rights. The Phuong code and the Binh code—they are both exceptionally hard to crack. But on Sunday next week, you will find out which one prevails.