Mirnyi Topples Sluiter for First ATP Title of Career
By PRITHA SARKAR
ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (Feb. 23) -- Belarussian Max Mirnyi stormed to his first career title with a 7-6, 6-4 victory over local favorite Raemon Sluiter in the ABN Amro tournament final Sunday.
Rotterdam-born Sluiter was hoping to celebrate the event's 30th anniversary in style, but Mirnyi gatecrashed the party and snatched the trophy and the $154,000 winner's purse for himself.
"It's a big honor for me to join the winner's circle here," said Mirnyi, who was cheered on by his doubles partner Roger Federer from the stands.
"I'm looking forward to coming back here and seeing my name join the others on the billboard at this arena," added the world No. 46, whose previous claim to fame was partnering Lleyton Hewitt and Serena Williams to U.S. Open doubles victories.
Before his successful run here, Mirnyi had not won back-to-back matches since falling to Andre Agassi in the U.S. Open quarterfinals last September.
But the talented Minsk resident, who practices yoga before every match, gradually drowned out the frenzied support for Sluiter with an onslaught of thundering serves and deep penetrating groundstrokes.
Having knocked out former champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov and second seed Federer in the previous two rounds, the towering 6-foot-5 Mirnyi was in no mood to let his chance of victory slip and rarely allowed world No. 72 Sluiter to gain the upper hand.
Sluiter earned the only break point of the opening set in the first game of the match, but it was Mirnyi who rattled off the winners to run away with the tiebreaker 7-3.
Nicknamed "The Beast," Mirnyi dug his claws deeper into Sluiter in the second, claiming the break in the fifth game when the Dutchman hit a running forehand into the net.
With the momentum clearly in his favor, the 25-year-old Belarussian stepped up the pace and clinched victory with his seventh ace of the match.
For Sluiter, the loss was his second in an ATP final.
Once a ballboy at the Rotterdam event, he was hoping bring his career full circle by becoming the fourth Dutchman to win the event, after Tom Okker, Richard Krajicek and Jan Siemerink.
"It's disappointing to lose here but in a way it was also a dream to play a final in my home town," said Sluiter, who had emerged victorious in his only previous meeting with Mirnyi at last year's Queen's Club event.
"Losing is the tough part of being a tennis player... but we all have to accept it."