Victory looked so near yet so far for Kenya’s Albert Njogu, who lost to Hungarian Peter Sallay in boys final of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) 18 and Under tournament at the Nairobi Club on Saturday.
Fifth seed Njogu will rue a meek first serve and unforced errors as he squandered several game points to go down to second seed Sallay in straight sets of 6-3, 6-4 in a thrilling final.
Njogu drew level 3-3 in the first set but Sallay broke his serve to lead 4-3 before the Hungarian served to stretch the lead 5-3.
Then Sallay, who won two of similar tournaments in Nairobi last year, would break Njogu’s serve again to win the set 6-3.
It was a pulsating exchange of leads in the second set when Njogu served to take the first game before Sallay also staged a similar show in the second game. Njogu would serve to win the next game for a 2-1 lead before breaking Sallay’s serve for a 3-1 lead.
Njogu staged some good rallies and swift backhands but its Sallay who took the next two games to level 3-3 before the Kenyan regained the lead 4-3. Sally’s strong serve held him at 40-0 to level before breaking Njogu’s serve to lead for the first time in the set 5-4.
Serving for victory, Sallay stormed to lead the game at 40-0 before Njogu brought it at 40-40 but a slicing backhand return fell short to give the Hungarian an advantage and victory.
“I tried to win by keeping the balls in but in the end, I gave him the advantage,” said Njogu, who last week reached the quarter-finals of the same tournament. “But it’s part of the learning process since I am sure I will eventually triumph.”
It was the second time in months that Njogu, the form four student at Mbagathi High School, reached the final of the ITF 18 and Under event. In November last year, Njogu also lost to Rostislav Galfinger from Kazakhstan in three-set thriller.
Having reached the quarter-finals last week in the first leg of the same championship, Njogu is now focused on winning in the third leg that starts Monday at the same venue.
“Njogu was really hungry for victory and put me in some tough situations on the court,” said Sallay. “That pressure saw him commit some errors that I cashed on to win.”
Njogu had dismissed Mihaly Deli from Hungary in straight sets of 6-3, 6-3 to reach the final while Sallay beat Jasza Szajrych from Poland 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.
Joelle Lilly Sophie Steur from Germany won the girls’ event after her opponent Yu Chin Tsai from Taipei retired in the second set with an injury. Steur took the first set 6-1 and as leading 3-2 into the second set before Tsai called it quits.
Christopher Fok Kow from Mauritius and Mozambican Bruno Nhavene beat the Dutch pair of Frank Jonker 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 to win boys doubles.