By Florian Heer
(March 28, 2014) The ITF Futures Circuit has come to Istria, one of the leading regions for tourists in Croatia thanks to its geographical position and closeness to many of the most important European tourist markets. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic Sea between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner. It is shared by three countries – Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. Istria offers its visitors mild climate, a lot of beaches, natural beauties and a long tradition in tourism.
Umag is a scenic town with about 7.000 inhabitants, situated on the North-Western Istrian coast, and holds unmatched beauty and distinction. Due to its location, Umag is considered as the gateway to Istria from the northern European parts and for tennis fans, the city is known for hosting the Croatia Open, an ATP 250 World Tour event held in July at the eye-catching stadium with a capacity of more than 4.000 seats within the Stella Maris Resort right next to the sea.
In the same complex the ITF Future Circuit has now made a stop for this week and Umag is the third out of five tournaments played in Istria this March and April. Of course the ATP Stadium is not in use for this smaller event but with start of the quarterfinals the Grandstand is supposed to function as the main court.
In the first match of the day Uladzimir Ignatik, one of five Belarusians in the main draw, faced wild card Mate Delic. The Croat is playing his first tournament since the ATP Challenger in Bergamo at the beginning of February but knocked out second-seeded Gerard Granollers-Pujol in a stunning three-set encounter yesterday. In today’s match, Ignatik had the better start and took the first set in just under thirty minutes. The seventh-seed from Minsk didn’t suffer a break but lost his rhythm in the tie-break of the second set, which went in favour of Delic. In the final frame, it was Ignatik again who took command of a great clay court encounter with a lot of exciting rallies to finally take the match winning 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.
In Saturday’s semi-finals the Belarusian will face Lamine Ouahab. The Moroccan defeated Juan Lizariturry in three sets. The 22-year-old Spaniard, who reached the stage of the final four in Porec last week, bageled his opponent in an extraordinary first set. Ouahab already took a medical time-out after the second game and received treatment at his left shoulder. He also became pretty angry with some of the umpire’s decisions in the early stage of the match. “I felt some pain when I was serving,” Ouahab told us afterwards. “There was also one ball, which I thought it was in, but it was called out. I got maybe a bit too much upset about this decision,” the fourth-seed said in a very calm way. Nonetheless, it seemed that Ouahab, who was born in Algeria and received the Moroccan citizenship in January this year, found the right way to push the reset button. The 29-year-old broke serve in the first game of the second set and a totally new match started. Two more breaks and Ouahab took the frame in the seventh game. Lizariturry tried hard from the baseline but the Moroccan number one just had the better shot selection and all of his experience finally helped him to advance into the semis winning 0-6, 6-1, 6-1.
“Juan played a pretty good match today right from the beginning but from the second set on, I tried to start a new match. It was much closer today than the scoreboard might say,” the Moroccan stated. “I know the Spanish guys very well as I have been living in Barcelona for thirteen years,” Ouahab explained his emotional expressions on court in Spanish. The former world number 114 has already won twenty ITF Future career titles, the last ten on home soil. “There are a lot of expenses traveling the Tennis Tour. You have to pay for everything at these types of tournaments. So normally I just play at home or in Spain. This is the beginning of the year and I had some help to come here. It’s unusual for me playing Futures outside of Morocco so I hope that I gain some points to get back to the bigger tournaments,” Ouahab told us about his goals for the season.
In the other two quarterfinal matches of day Simone Vagnozzi, who already took one ITF Future title in Palermo earlier this year defeated Croatian wild card, Antonio Sancic in straight sets winning 6-3, 6-1. Fun fact of the match occurred at Sancic’s very first serve of the match, when his string broke and he had to change his racket afterwards.
The Italian will meet the tournament’s top-seed, Kristijan Mesaros. The 25-year- old Croat beat Tak Khum Wang from Paris 6-1, 6-3 and hopes to advance into his first final of the season tomorrow after he had played two semis before in Murcia and Vrsar.
Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Futures Circuit. Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.