By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Sam Groth spent two weeks training in the Bahamas before coming to the Winston-Salem Open. Call it just part of a very memorable summer for the 27-year-old Australian.
He has recorded the biggest wins of his career in the past two months, won a set off Roger Federer at Wimbledon, and played a key role as the Aussies rallied their way into the Davis Cup semifinals.
Groth added to that success on Sunday night with a thrilling 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (5) first-round victory over Jared Donaldson in the feature evening match on Stadium Court.
He fought off two match points in the second set, then rallied again in the third set after falling down a break.
It was a draining, two-hour and 49-minute marathon and it wasn’t decided until Groth got a mini-break at 5-5 in the third-set tie-break and then served out the match.
“It’s great to tough one out like that,” Groth said. “When you’ve had a couple weeks off, the first match is always tough. It’s different practicing than playing matches, a different pressure, and I was playing a night match on a new court I hadn’t had a chance to hit on yet. But I was able to dig it out and hopefully I was able to find my game.”
Groth came to the Winston-Salem Open ranked a career-best No. 53 after the best summer of his career. It started in June when he reached the quarterfinals in Stuttgart. Then he reached the third round at Wimbledon, where he lost to Federer 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 2-6. He then played a key role, winning a doubles point and a singles point, as Australia rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Kazakhstan in the Davis Cup World Group quarterfinals.
He also reached the quarterfinals at Washington, beating Thomaz Bellucci, Viktor Troicki and Feliciano Lopez in succession before losing to Kei Nishikori.
“I’ve had a great summer, especially from the grass courts forward,” Groth said. “I beat Lopez at Stuttgart for my first Top 15 win. Then I took a set off Roger at Wimbledon, the only set he lost before the final. Went back to Australia and we were down 0-2 in Davis Cup and Lleyton (Hewitt) and I were able to win the doubles and then the two reverse singles on the last day. That’s a different type of pressure and to come through like that gives you confidence.
“And then Washington was probably my best tournament. First time I have beaten guys like that back-to-back-to-back. So I’m really starting to establish myself in the Top 60, and hopefully the top 50 is not too far away.”
Against Donaldson, an 18-year-old who came into the tournament ranked No. 153, Groth had to dig deep. Donaldson won the first set tie-break and won the first three games of the second set, and had two match points against Groth’s serve at 5-4. Groth served his way out of the jam and wound up winning the second-set tie-break, then he rallied from a break down again in the third set and eventually prevailed in the third-set tie-break.
“I played some really good games when I had to,” Groth said. “It was one of those matches you just try to tough out. Obviously Jared’s a good young player, he hasn’t established himself at this level, so I knew at some stage he was probably going to give me a chance. He probably let me back in it a little bit. But it was just a fight, really.”
“He’s a tough guy to play against,” Donaldson said. “He’s got that big serve and he’s able to keep you out of any rhythm.”
Groth will take on Steve Johnson in a second-round match Monday night. He made it clear that he is looking to go as far as possible this week.
“There’s still points up for grabs here, isn’t there?” he said. “That’s the thing. It’s always tough, everybody knows the US Open’s next week, but there’s 250 points for a win. So anyone who goes deep and makes 250 points winning a title or making a final or 90 points for semis is going to look at it like you’ve got to make the third round at the US Open to make those same points. So my focus is firmly here at the moment, and when this week’s over whether it’s tomorrow night or Saturday after the final, then I’ll look to New York. Right now I’m totally focused on this tournament.”
In other first-round Main Draw matches, 2014 WSO semifinalist Yeh-Hsun Lu beat Robin Haase 7-6 (4), 6-2; Diego Schwartzman beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-4, 7-6 (8); Santiago Giraldo beat Steve Darcis 2-0 (ret.); Hyeon Chung beat James Ward 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3; and Mikhail Kukushkin beat Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-0.