Pedro Sousa met Carlos Taberner in Sunday’s Maia Challenger final. The Portuguese had already made another final in his country in 2020, losing to Jaume Munar at the Lisbon Challenger. The indoor clay conditions seemed to really suit his game and he was able to advance to the final in dominant fashion. Taberner, meanwhile, won his maiden Challenger title earlier this year in Iasi and defeated Jozef Kovalik, the defending champion in Maia, in the quarterfinals. But, i the final four, he spent over three hours on the court fighting for victory against Duje Ajdukovic.
That semifinal slugfest seemed to have a huge impact on Taberner’s next match. The Spaniard really struggled to get going and while it wasn’t the most decisive bagel victory ever, it still had to be a bit humiliating to lose a set in the final 0-6. Usually a rather attacking player, Sousa was happy just to rally with Taberner, who tried to keep his opponent on his weaker backhand side. The balls came back though and they were usually quicker than the ones Taberner sent there. After 35 minutes, the first set was gone.
The dry spell was finally broken by Taberner in the eighth-game of the match and somewhat surprisingly, he started holding serve consistently. As an opportunity emerged for him at 3-3, he managed to construct a few great points off his forehand and break his opponent for the first time. Sousa seemed to have completely lost his focus, presumably thinking that the win would just come naturally and Taberner would hand it over to him on a silver platter.
That wasn’t the case and with the Spaniard serving for the second set, Sousa finally realized that he was in trouble and threw his all to try to make a fightback. He managed to get the re-break by finally playing with more intent and aggression and tied the second set at 5-5.
A battle of wills
But his focus and concentration were still a bit all over the place and after a couple of straightforward misses, he allowed Taberner to serve for the set again. With some new-found energy, the Spaniard didn’t falter this time around and, in an unlikely twist for anyone who watched the opener, took the match to a decider.
He was arguably the better player in the early stages of the third set, setting up two break points at 2-2. While having a chance you need to have it in you to take it though and Taberner just wasn’t ready for this. Not being aggressive enough on his opportunities, he let Sousa claw his way back into this game. After missing his shot, the Spaniard looked spent, both mentally and physically. As it turned out, he wasn’t going to win a single game after that.
It was still an excellent run for Taberner, who made it to a new career-high of #143, five places higher than his previous one. The title might turn out very important for Pedro Sousa, who is now on the verge of making it to the Australian Open main draw. A true late-bloomer, the 32-year-old has only played two Grand Slam main events in his career and opportunities like that have to be extremely important to him.
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