By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM. N.C. - The defending champion is out at this year’s Winston-Salem Open.
Kevin Anderson’s reign came to an end in the second round on Tuesday night, as Jiri Vesely seemingly stole a first-set tie-break and then went on to a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory.
Anderson, the tournament’s fifth seed, was making his 2016 debut on the same Stadium Court where he reeled off five straight wins and beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the championship match a year ago.
The 30-year-old South African was clearly disappointed to see his reign come to an end.
“Obviously it’s very disappointing, coming in this week after last year and exiting first round is pretty disappointing,” Anderson said. “It’s been nice reflecting back this week, because a tournament win is always great, and obviously it would have been nice to come back here and have a better showing. But it was a tough day and I have to move on now.”
Vesely, a 23-year-old from the Czech Republic, had compassion for Anderson afterward.
“It’s very tough defending a title,” Vesely said. “I found that out earlier this year in Auckland, so I know how he feels.”
The victory moved Vesely into third-round action on Wednesday against 12th-seeded Andrey Kuznetsov.
This match literally turned on the final four points of the first-set tie-break, all won by Vesely. Anderson led 5-3 but Vesely got one point back on his serve, then got the next two points on Anderson’s serve. He then served out the set.
“It happened quite quick,” Anderson said. “I was up 4-2, I had three aces at that point, up a mini-break, and the next minute it’s set point.”
“He was up 5-4 serving two times and I got both of the points, which I was lucky because he missed one quite easy volley,” Vesely said. “But, you know, I just was patient and stayed calm during the most important points. I was just a little more lucky to convert my opportunities.”
Anderson, who came into the tournament ranked No. 25, was not making excuses afterward but said he’d had a couple setbacks in the past couple of days. He missed more than two months early in the year with a shoulder injury and ankle surgery, and has been on an emotional roller-coaster throughout the year.
“It was tough,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t at 100 percent. I had a couple of issues going on over the weekend that made it tricky for me. I actually came out tonight and was feeling better, so that was encouraging. But I really wasn’t able to execute when I needed to. I gave myself a good shot in the tie-break, played some excellent points, but I didn’t do it at the key moments, especially at the end of the tie-break.”
Vesely came into the WSO ranked No. 48. He had beat Tim Van Rijthoven in three sets in the first round on Monday. He had lost three of four previous matches against Anderson in the past, including once earlier this year in qualifying at Queens Club.
“I played against Kevin many times in the past,” Vesely said. “He’s obviously a great player, winning here and quarterfinals of the US Open. We know each other really well. We both serve good so I knew it was going to be really up to one or two important points, and I think that showed in the first-set tie-break. If he would have won the first set, maybe it would have gone the other way. But I’m really happy with the way I reacted and the way I fought. You always have to stay in there and wait for your chance. I did that today. I was patient and waited for my opportunities, and I was able to win.”
Vesely has been ranked as high as No.35 last year. He got off to a horrid start to the year, but has had some big moments including a trip to the fourth round at Wimbledon and a win over Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo.
“It’s been a tough year for me,” Vesely said. “I didn’t start the season real good. I won one match until April, which was unfortunate for me. I was real disappointed, because I had really good preparation for the season. But somehow things didn’t go as I wanted. Lost a lot of tough matches, close matches.
“But beating Novak and Dominic Thiem and obviously Kevin are good wins, and I think I still have the game. I still have the power to be higher than I am. I need to be ready for the situation where I can get the breakthrough to Top 30 maybe. I have lost a lot of tight matches which maybe if I would win them I would be somewhere different place. But I think everything has its right time, and I’m waiting for my chance at a breakthrough.”
In other evening matches, fourth-seeded American Steve Johnson beat 2014 WSO champion Lukas Rosol; ninth-seeded Viktor Troicki beat Kyle Edmund 6-3, 7-5; Yen-Hsun Lu beat 10th-seeded Joao Sousa 6-2, 6-4; and 15th-seeded Fernando Verdasco beat American 18-year-old Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Johnson needed just 57 minutes to take out Rosol in a dominant performance. He has now won 21 of 28 matches since the start of the summer grass court season and is clearly feeling good about his play.
“I was economical,” Johnson said. “It’s past my bedtime, so … I didn’t serve great tonight. I thought it was one of my poorer serving days. Not bad by any stretch but just not the best. But I felt I played the important points well and I played great from the ground. Any chance you can get up an early break in the first and then serve it out and then the second just kind of stretch my lead, you have to like that.”
Johnson will face Verdasco in the third round in the feature match on Stadium Court Wednesday night.