Russell takes Wailea tourney
By KATHERINE BELCHER, Staff Writer
WAILEA – In a tennis tournament where all the participants are physically strong, winning often comes down to the player who is the mentally toughest at the end.
In the championship match at the Wailea Men’s Challenger, Michael Russell proved he was the mentally tougher player by defeating Sam Warburg 6-1, 6-0 on Sunday.
’’At this level, everyone plays well,’’ Russell said. ’’What separates people is mental ability.’’
Russell, the tournament’s No. 5 seed, said there are many elements to deal with in a match that are out of a players control – weather, bad calls, unlucky drops – and that winning and losing is decided by how a player handles those situations.
Just more than an hour before the championship match, Russell had to dispatch No. 1 seed Paul Goldstein. Their semifinal match on Saturday was postponed due to rain with Russell leading 4-0 in the third set, and the match tied at one set apiece.
The continuation of that match took place on Center Court, and Russell needed only three games to send Goldstein packing 5-7, 6-0, 6-1. It was a sign of things to come for Warburg, who was seeded sixth.
’’I was a little nervous this morning,’’ Russell said. ’’It was probably a good thing (to play) because it got me loose.’’
Russell started the match by breaking Warburg’s serve and quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead, hitting winners from every area of the court. Russell seemed to get to every shot, and had an answer for every ball hit by Warburg.
When long rallies from the baseline weren’t working for Warburg, he started coming into net – but Russell answered with precision passing shots and winning lobs.
Warburg managed to hold his serve in the fifth game of the set, but it took 13 points and went to deuce four times. It was the only game Warburg would win, and Russell won the next two games to take the set.
It was more of the same in the second set, and Russell never faltered on his way to shutting out Warburg.
For his win, Russell earned 50 points toward his ATP ranking and $7,200 in prize money. Warburg earned 35 points and $4,240.
Warburg congratulated Russell after the match, and speaking to the crowd, said he hoped they appreciate the level of tennis that Russell played not just on Sunday, but all week.
’’I’m new to the tour – when you leave your friends at college, it’s unique to find friends on tour,’’ said Warburg, who played at Stanford. ’’Mike’s been like a big brother and had done a great job. I’m really happy for him, and I can’t complain about Hawaii – it’s great here. It’s been one of the best weeks of my career.’’
Russell said he felt good about his play all week, and that Warburg had also played well since the tournament began. Warburg was fighting off a cold during the championship, which combined with the heat and humidity, may have caused him to come out flat on Sunday, Russell said.
Russell seemed to sense the weakness and jumped on it early.
’’Overall I’m happy with my play,’’ Russell said. ’’I didn’t give him a lot of free points and I was able to counteract his good shots with my own good shots.’’
As for playing in the inaugural ATP challenger at Wailea, Russell said he enjoyed playing on Maui and was thankful for the tough competition.
’’This is a tough tournament,’’ said Russell. ’’Depth-wise it was very difficult, and it was good way to close out the season and prepare for the upcoming
Russell said he’ll be heading to Australia on Christmas night to prepare for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 15.