Phuong won the final 6-2 6-3 again Binh to clinch his first Vietbay Open.
This Open had been anything but a certainty, from the draw controversy, to the surprise exits by some stars; some players had made fantastic comebacks while others had faded. But Binh and Phuong withstood all the storms, and a chance at tennis glory awaited them. The stark contrast in their playing styles just goes to show that you can succeed no matter what your style is, as long as you are willing to put in the hard work.
With the French Open finishing early this morning —the reporters and journalists had to fly from Paris, and they flocked to Mitchell Park right before the final began. There the grandest stage had been set for the conclusion of the Vietbay Open.
The air was full of excitement and anticipation. Since the semifinals, the odds had shifted tremendously. Phuong had become the favorite. On the open market, which was right in the stadium, the odd for him was 150. Anh D, “nhà cái”, was seen collecting money right on the stand; while in the other corner, his wife, chị N was busy selling durian desserts to hungry spectators—both of them were doing very well indeed.
In an earlier interview, Phuong said he had something to surprise Binh, something we had never seen him doing before. There was widespread speculation that he’s going to play with his left hand. It would not surprise many people to be honest—the guy is just superhuman. Some gave him the nickname “the robot”. He had been playing some glorious and at the same time extremely accurate tennis.
We prefer the other nickname for him: “Phương tường”. In the stadium, there’s a banner that reads:”Phươnng tường, that was bricky of you”, while Binh’s fans could be seen waiving “Binh, your fire‘s too hot”, referring to Binh’s playing style.
Phuong had not dropped a set on his way to the final and looked poised to extend that record, breaking right in the first game as Binh committed some unforced errors in a nervous start. We did not see any special skill by Phuong yet; and he was playing with his right hand.
Phuong then started to serve. An underhand serve it was! Was this the craft that he mentioned? If it was, that was some witchcraft indeed as Binh failed to return the peculiar serves. Phuong held with ease.
Binh’s amazing offense for the first time looked not as sharp as it had been this whole tournament. Phuong was playing with such comfort beyond belief, and he returned Binh’s ferocious hitting with interests.
At 15-30, 0-2 down, after some grueling ground strokes, Binh moved into the net for a smash. He produced a good one, just for Phuong to lob it, and he needed two more smashes, before all he could do was to see another lob coming his way, this time totally out of his reach. “Magical” was the only word one should use to describe Phuong’s lob. Binh soon found himself in a 0-3 hole, struggling to crack Phuong’s defense.
But he found another gear to step up his game. Standing well inside the baseline and taking the ball extremely early, Binh tried to take time away from Phuong, moving him from one side to another. Binh produced one forehand cross-court winner and one down the line to break Phuong for 1-3.
Binh’s ferocious forehand is usually deadly, but not quite so against Phuong. At 30-30, Binh produced some tennis that should have been 5 winners, but he still lost the point. Nevertheless, he managed to hold for 2-3 after some courageous hitting.
Phuong’s resilience made Binh having to go for a bit more and more, in hope of ending the points quickly. But against Phuong, impatience is costly, and Phuong reeled off 3 straight games and claimed the first set 6-2 as Binh’s forehand sailed long.
Early in the second set, the two were playing with such intensity, unwilling to cede any advantage. After an exhausting rally, Phuong produced another amazing lob that slid the line. Binh played a drop shot with such finesse that won him the next point. But Phuong charged to the net and volleyed very effectively to press ahead for a 2-1 lead.
Binh next fell behind 1-3 as Phuong ‘s returns ripped through the court, while Binh’s first serve percentage began to plummet. He tried to mix up his games with some nice slices and drop shots that put Phuong slightly off balance, to break back.
The two continued to trade breaks until the 8th game of the match. At 3-4, after two deuces, and a tiring rally that left spectators glued to their seat, Binh went for a drop shot that landed just a bit short. He looked disappointed as the title was slipping away from him.
As Phuong served for the championship, Binh was not willing to go quietly; he hit even harder, aiming for the corners. But Phuong showed absolutely no sign of nerves. In the end, he claimed the championship as Binh’s shot sailed wide.
Phuong raised his hands in triumph and delight.
"This is just incredible," he said. "I wanted this title so bad”
Asked if he felt invincible, he answered “No, more like a brick wall” and laughed.
Binh said: "Phuong played with a great strategy, and is in a terrific form. I knew I had to serve big, but unfortunately I could not do that today.”
The mighty aggressor and the master of defense really brought out the best in each other. Phuong’s such a complete player who plays with intelligence and a great instinct. His performance today was almost flawless. Binh’s game was just beautiful to watch, and he played with such courage and inspiration. Today, consistency reigns supreme, but maybe power will prevail next time.
As tournament director Minh T T handed the trophy and medals to Phuong, Binh, Cuong and Viet, Binh said he looked forward to more practice to get ready for the next championship, while Phuong revealed he needed to pay his tournament fee quickly before he’s stripped off of the trophy. He could not wait for the Vietbay ping pong tournament too, which would start soon. Watch out the ping pong stars, Phuong, the Vietbay tennis champion of 2013 is coming your way!