World Championship Challenge 2012

26 Apr 2012

Day 1: Rob Fahey lead Steve Virgona 3-1 after the first session: 6/5 3/6 6/1 6/3.

Matches at The Queen's Club - sponsored by Neptune Investment Management

Tuesday 24th

Final score: RF leads 3-1 (6/5 3/6 6/1 6/3).

Tuesday night witnessed the first leg of the 2012 World Championship challenge, sponsored by Neptune Investment Management. Queen's Club was full of eagerly awaiting visitors who had travelled, some from as far afield as Australia to watch the match. Jonathan Howell introduced the marker, Andrew Lyons and then both players to court.

First set: The pressure of the match was clear to see as both players started tentatively. Rob and Steve both using high serves but with vast variety; Rob served high drops and Steve full piques. It was Steve who was able to shake off his nerves and take the first game. The second game was quick too with Fahey making 'easy' errors. We were into the third game before any real rallies were seen. With a few exchanges and some strong volleys from Fahey he was able to get himself on the board by winning the third game. 1-2. However, his efforts were short lived as Steve relentlessly stepped up the pace and began applying the pressure. He played a variety of serves which limited Rob's damaging cut volley – a previous problem for Steve. His strong piques served from wide on the second gallery meant Rob was only able to cut the ball away (with limited room for forces). Steve was anticipating this and was able to step up the court, taking himself out of any danger in the corners and punishing Rob with low hard hit balls in both the forehand and backhand corners. Steve was all over Rob for the next 3 games. Anything Rob had, Steve had an answer to it. It was unlike Fahey to be making so many errors still, but that was the pressure that Steve was putting him under. Any missed dedans and Steve ensured he was punished. Steve closed out the set to 5-2 and the crowd couldn't believe what they were seeing. The World Champion was under the hammer in the first set!!! However, his 18 years as the World Champion and countless opens haven't come without a few fight backs. Rob stopped unforced errors and began to move Steve around the court. He began hitting the ball with accuracy that had won him so many titles in the past. Slowly he clawed his way back to 4-5. Steve was noticeably feeling the pressure. Having had such an impressive start he didn't want to throw it all away. Rob's cut shots were fierce, deep and hard which made Steve take some uncharacteristic choices which led to a 5-5 nail bitter in the first set. Such a huge advantage mentally to get the first set, to make your mark. But who had it in them? Fahey is so accustomed to playing these games before and he played it well. Fahey hit one straight dedans off the return of serve, hit the grille and forced an error out of Steve. 40-0. But Steve had come to fight, 15-40, 30-40, the comeback was too late. 6-5 Fahey wins the first set. 1/0.

Second set: Steve was out for revenge. Feeling like the first set had been snatched from his grasp he wanted pay back. Rob kept to his game plan, taking galleries off return of serve and running Steve around (when he got the chance!) Rob took the first game of the second set, but Steve had an answer. He began to show everyone why he was number two in the world and has earned the right to challenge for the title. His speed around court was fascinating. He was anticipating shots before Rob had even struck the ball. He raced through the second set with his agility and power outclassing Rob. Once again Steve found himself on top. He led 5-3 and even defended a point that Rob had for 4-5. Instead he took that game to deuce and with a sensational few rallies, worked Rob hard in the corners and to the point where he forced an error from him. Rob tired of the floor rallies and so took on the force. Missed high and Steve punished him with a grille. A set piece, it was all to play for. 6/3 SV. 1 set all.

Third set: Throughout the first two sets Rob was still making errors. Even though they were by the smallest of margins, against someone of Steve's ability they were enough to be put on the back foot and to lose cheap points. The third set saw the end of this. Rob's accuracy increased as did his intensity. He wasn't going to give up his title without a fight. He knew how important this third set would be. Steve continued to serve the hard pique, paired with a quick side wall, aimed at moving Rob around. Rob neutralised the serve with monotonous returns into the galleries. Whatever Steve served, he wasn't serving for long as Rob was very quickly getting himself up the servers end. From there he began to push. Steve was feeling the pressure and so began to hit a lot of over hit cut shots, setting Rob up for winners. And when that didn't work, Virgona reverted to his forcing game which momentarily left him. Not for long, but long enough that Rob established a lead and secured the third set. 6-1. A blow for Steve and a great lift for Rob.

Fourth and final set: This was by far the best set of the night. Both players in full flow and leaving nothing in the tank. The rallies were long and with pinpoint accuracy. They drew games at 1 all. The third game took almost 10 minutes with long deuces. A long 'tickle' game persisted up and down the main wall, pass the tambour. Rob was able to read this incredibly well; however Steve with the servers end advantage was eventually able to produce a winner, take the advantage and seal the crucial 3rd game. 2-1 Steve. Now, if you were impressed with that game, the next went to a whole new level. Both players flying round the court, in some of the longest rallies of the match so far. Rob's fitness was living up with Steve's, however Steve had a speed advantage which again set him up to produce targets when he needed them. Another incredibly hard fought game. It goes Steve's way and he led the 4th set 3-1. Rob knows that this final set makes a huge difference on the score board and won't give up. He narrowly lost the last few games, but through sheer grit and determination he battled back to 3-3. The crowd were electric. As each rally got longer, so did the applause and cheering that followed. The infamous 7th game of a set - some say the most important. Rob had just fought tooth and nail to get in back to 3 all, he needed to keep up the intensity. Things didn't go to plan. Steve served strategically and two bounces had got the best of Rob. 30-0 Steve. Rob answered that with a main wall dedans and a chase. Steve kept serving his pique taking away Rob's cut volley, his primary weapon. However he gave Rob a bit too much room on the next two serves and Rob cut them away ferociously and gained the advantage 40-30, changing ends to serve for the next point. Steve's return of serve had been faultless all evening. He effortlessly changed his angles without giving anything away. His low boast had been damaging, and once again did the job. Deuce. Long, long rallies continued. The atmosphere had changed, everyone was holding their breath for what had been the most hard fought game of the match. Steve took the advantage with some sensational gets, some too hard to even comprehend how he got them back, how he was able to cover the court so well. He worked and worked, till Rob could go no more and gained advantage. Then an error, back to deuce. They rallied - Rob had advantage up the server’s end. Chase 6 yards. Steve had to beat him on the floor. Mid way through the rally, Rob had a forehand that missed the hazard galleries by a whisker, the rally continued! Steve had a force for the dedans in the middle of the court, over hit and on the roof, once again Rob had a chance to put the ball away. He turned on his backhand and hit a forehand that lipped out of the grille, rushing forward into the hazards, too quick even for Steve's pace. Steve threw himself at the ball (and the court) in desperation but only for the ball to keep rolling into the net. The crowd erupted. Not only for the Fahey fan base, but also in awe to see the two best players in the world going toe to toe right in front of their eyes! Rob had the momentum and was winning even the most bizarre of points. One rally, Steve hit balls that rattled so far round the tambour Rob's only option was to boast the ball on his forehand above hazard second gallery. He did this not once, but three times!! Now Steve was the one getting frustrated at Rob's consistency to just to get the ball back. That was enough to give him the edge, Steve forced too hard, straight into the net cord, game. 5-3 Rob. Steve had played so well and lost games by the smallest of margins, he was now looking at another come back. Fahey had other plans. Once again he played the most important points well. A few net cords and Steve faced 40-0. Credit to him, he never gave up and kept the pressure on Rob and came back to 30-40. A big kick, off shot that went high around the grille, Steve tried to step inside his backhand but misjudged the angle. The last point of the match and he didn't get a racquet on it. Game and set to Rob.

A fantastic evening of Tennis. In true World Championship style, seeing some of the most faultless and impressive shots, speed and accuracy in the game. Rob Fahey, the current World Champion leads the first day 3-1. Thursday will no doubt hold even more anticipation, action and emotion. Both players having a day’s rest to re-evaluate their games. What will happen next?

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