Stepanek takes the hard road in qualifying
By Val Febbo
Wednesday, 11 January, 2017
Top seed Radek Stepanek has survived a fright from American world No.257 Sekou Bangoura to move through to round two of men’s qualifying for Australian Open 2017.
The Czech veteran managed to regroup after losing the second set to record a 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2 victory over the 25-year-old Bangoura, who was only appearing in his second Grand Slam qualifying draw after his first at the US Open last year.
The 38-year-old Stepanek began solidly, exchanging service holds with Bangoura before breaking the American in the eighth game of the set, after a combination of superb winners and unforced errors from Bangoura.
The former world No.8 was able to serve out the opener comfortably, but Bangoura turned the tables in the fourth game of the second set, breaking the world No.102 to take a 3-1 advantage. The Czech steadied and broke back immediately, fighting his way back to a 3-3 scoreline.
Both players struggled to hold serve, and Stepanek gave himself a chance to wrap up the match when he broke Bangoura for a 5-4 lead. The Czech saved one break point with some strong work at the net, but after a crucial double fault at deuce, he was unable to fend off Bangoura’s athleticism on the next point and conceded his third break of serve for the set.
The set progressed to a tiebreak, and the American quickly took control, racing to a 5-1 lead before forcing the match to a deciding set.
Bangoura’s momentum was stopped cold by Stepanek stepping up his play, the Czech racing to a 4-0 lead. Bangoura won the next two games, but errors proved costly as Stepanek held for a 5-2 lead before breaking to wrap up the match, advancing to the second round of qualifying after two hours and 20 minutes.
Stepanek will meet Blaz Kavcic in the second round of qualifying, the Slovenian advancing after Italian opponent Matteo Donati retired midway through the second set of their match on Court 10 after Kavcic won the first set 6-2.