Munar Shows Why He’s A Fighter On The Court In Antwerp

Jaume Munar (photo: Belga/European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 18, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

There’s so much to admire about Jaume Munar‘s shot-making abilities, his point construction, his focus and his fitness. As his European Open opponent, Tim van Rijthoven, learned the hard way during their first-round tussle on Tuesday afternoon, never count Munar out. The Spaniard is a fighter on the tennis court.

For nearly three hours, the World No. 55 from Barcelona battled with the 113th-ranked qualifier from the Netherlands in a first-round survival of the fittest. After splitting the first two sets, Munar overcame a 2-5 deficit in the final set to take the decider to a tie-break. Soon, both literally and metaphorically, the 25-year-old Munar delivered the knock-out punch to van Rijthoven on the 27th shot of a marathon rally to go ahead 4-3. There was no giving up as Munar navigated his way toward the finish line by winning three of the final four points of the match.

Somehow, some way, after 218 points, Munar came away with a 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over van Rijthoven to advance to the second round in Antwerp. The win marked the fifth time this season that Munar had come back to win after losing the first set. It also broke a two-match losing streak, and was Munar’s first tour-level win on an indoor hard-court in over a year. His next opponent will be No. 8 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, who hit 45 winners and advanced over 241st-ranked French qualifier and 2021 Roland Garros junior champion Luca van Assche, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (1), in two hours and 50 minutes, winning on his eighth match-point opportunity.

By the end of the day’s opening match in Lotto Arena, Munar was ahead on points 116-102, and he withstood 15 aces and 52 winners from the big-serving Dutchman, who smashed his racquet in frustration after losing match point.

Van Rijthoven, who was playing for the third consecutive day after winning two rounds of qualifying to advance to the main draw, knew he had let a victory slip away in his first meeting with Munar. The frustration showed on his face as he shook hands with the victor and, soon after, as he walked off the court. By contrast, Munar was all smiles after collecting his 19th tour-level win of the season in his 42nd match.

Along the way, Munar took advantage of 52 unforced errors from his opponent. He hit 23 winners, made only 12 unforced errors on won 78 percent of his first-serve points. By the end, Munar was the steadier player.

“I’m happy to win,” Munar said in his on-court interview. “It was an unbelievable battle. In the beginning, I had my chances in the first set, but managed to stay calm, to keep going and to keep focused on my game. I’m happy to win this kind of battle.”

In his third appearance at the European Open – the others were in 2018 and 2019 – Munar expressed his like the tournament and the organizers who run it. He’s also fond of the city of Antwerp. “I hope to play many more events here in Antwerp,” Munar said. “I love the city. I hope to be here a long, long time and have many more chances [to win].”

Even in defeat, Bailly shows he’s the future of Belgian tennis

Seventeen-year-old wild card Gilles Arnaud Bailly of Belgium played with poise and maturity well beyond his years – even in defeat – during his Tuesday evening featured match against No. 58 David Goffin, 14 years his senior and a former Top-10 player. Bailly pushed Goffin to the limit before succumbing to his opponent’s vast experience. Goffin won the first-round match, 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, that stretched to three hours and 12 minutes.

In his ATP Tour debut, in just his fourth professional tournament, the 1,185th-ranked Bailly wasted little time in showing the fans who filled Lotto Arena – including Hall of Fame great Kim Clijsters – that he’s the real deal. The potential for greatness was there for everyone to appreciate.

During his on-court interview, Goffin gave big props to Bailly. “Honestly, I know a little bit how he plays … I knew he was not going to give me the match,” he said. “Mentally, he’s very strong. As you could see, he stayed in the match all the time, even if I had set points in the first and, then, break [points] in the second, breaks in the third. He was fighting always to come back. He’s a very good player already. I wish him all the best for the near future and in his career.”

The Belgian teenager handled the pressure of playing before his home country fans about as well as could be expected. Together, Bailly and Goffin put on a good show for everyone to enjoy regardless of the outcome. They could be forgiven for keeping the many kids in attendance up late on a school night. It was a good learning experience for everyone.

As it happened, Bailly broke Goffin’s service twice in the Belgian veteran’s first three service games and showed plenty of mental fortitude and wonderful athleticism. Although Goffin went on to win the one-hour and 19-minute opening set in a tie-break 9-7 on his fourth set-point opportunity, Bailly made him work for it – and the crowd was thoroughly entertained.

Then, although Bailly was broken in his first service game at the beginning of the second set, he got it back three games later and held steady against the more experienced Goffin. Nothing seemed to phase the junior Belgian. He rose to the moment time and again. By the time the match reached the two-hour, 18-minute mark, Bailly had leveled matters as he broke to win the set 7-5 after Goffin ended a 13-shot rally with a forehand return that sailed long.

However, as the third set unfolded, Goffin showed why he’s been a Dutch master for a generation. He broke through for his fourth break of Bailly with a nifty, drop-volley winner to push ahead 2-1. Then, Goffin consolidated it with a love hold for a 3-1 lead. However, Bailly wasn’t quite ready to give in. He immediately got the break back in the sixth game – his fifth break of Goffin – but aided by Bailly’s fifth double fault, Goffin broke again for a 4-3 advantage. He held at 15 for a 5-3 lead, needing just to hold serve once more, which he did. Goffin won on his first match point with a perfectly-placed backhand drop volley winner.

“It was a tough match against a great guy,” Goffin added. “Now I have to rest because I’m tired, but I have a day off and I come back on Thursday.”

Goffin finished with 57 winners to 31 unforced errors, compared to 23 winners and 23 unforced errors for Bailly. Goffin outpointed his opponent 121-117. Next, he will face No. 3 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in the second round on Thursday.

Stricker’s Antwerp debut is a memorable one

Switzerland’s Dominic Stricker has shown he’s got the right attitude and game to beat Top 50 players on a consistent basis. The former junior prodigy, just 20, added a confidence-building win to his resumé with a relatively easy 6-2, 6-4 victory over World No. 34 and seventh seed Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands in an hour and 26 minutes.

“It’s a great win for me,” the #NextGen rising star Stricker said during his on-court interview. “I think it shows that my level is quite good at the moment. I know what I am working for. I’m very happy with the win today.”

The aggressive, left-hander hit five aces, struck 19 winners and made just nine unforced errors. He outpointed van de Zandschulp 68-54, aided by winning half of his return points on the Dutchman’s inconsistent second serve. While Stricker saved all four break points he faced, he converted three of 10 opportunities and put away his first tour-level hard-court victory of the season. It was his third tour-level win overall after spending much of 2022 playing on the ATP Challenger Tour circuit where he’s won titles at Cleveland, Ohio (indoor hard court) and Zug, Switzerland (clay).

Earlier this season, the 136th-ranked qualifier scored a nice victory over then-No. 62 Maxime Cressy on grass at Stuttgart, and last year beat current-World No. 11 Hubert Hurkacz, also on grass at Stuttgart, for his first Top 20 win. Stricker is 5-2 versus Top 50 players across all levels in his career. He could face Hurkacz, again, this week if both reach Sunday’s title match.

With Stricker’s first-round victory, he has lifted himself into 10th place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan. Currently, he has 422 points, 23 ahead of 11th place Matteo Arnaldi of Italy.

“Today I played at an amazing level,” said Stricker, who won a pair of qualifying matches to reach the main draw. “I served pretty well. It helped me a lot to be more relaxed on my return game. I’m very happy with my game today, very happy with the win.”

On Wednesday, Stricker will be back out on the Lotto Arena Center Court to face No. 82 Richard Gasquet of France in the second round.

Around the Lotto Arena

• No. 6 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina came from a set and a break down and roared to a 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over No. 62 Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland. The World No. 28, who broke into the Top 100 earlier this season and has achieved a new career-high ranking 11 times – peaking at No. 24 en route to winning the title at Bastad – struck 40 winners. He broke Huesler three times, including twice in the final set, to snatch victory from what earlier looked like would be a disappointing loss.

Cerundolo outpointed Huesler 111-108 to move into the second round against either 268th-ranked Belgian wild card Michael Geerts or No. 132 Dominic Thiem of Austria, who play their opening-round match on Wednesday evening.

• No. 69 Constant Lestienne of France advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 225th-ranked Dutch qualifier Jesper de Jong and will face No. 5 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain in Wednesday’s second round.

• Doubles No. 1 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia, were upset by Dutch duo Tallon Griekspoor and Botic van de Zandschulp, 6-2, 7-5, in the first round. The winners hit eight aces, won 77 percent of their first-serve points and broke their opponents four times in 10 tries. They outpointed the Colombians 66-48.

Meanwhile, No. 3 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both of Germany, advanced over Austrians Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 10-6.

• Throughout the week, the European Open is organizing a variety of special events geared to attract seniors and kids to the Lotto Arena to watch tennis and enjoy other activities. On Monday and Tuesday, seniors (age 60 and older) could obtain a 50 percent discount on their tickets, and on Wednesday, Kids Day sponsored by Tennis Vlaaderen will organize tennis games, challenges and activities geared towards children.

Tuesday’s European Open results

Wednesday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Jaume Munar is 8-3 versus players outside of the Top 100 on tour-level this year (after an 0-2 start) and 4-12 on indoor courts on tour-level in his career. His last tour-level indoor hard-court win before Tuesday’s win over Tim van Rijthoven came last year at Astana.

“Quotable …”