13 Jan 2015

Venus makes second round in Auckland

11:18 pm on 13 January 2015

Michael Venus has become the first New Zealand tennis player since 2002 to beat a foreigner and make the second round of Auckland's Heineken Open.

Michael Venus celebrates his win over Alejandro Gonzalez in Auckland, 2015.

Michael Venus celebrates his win over Alejandro Gonzalez in Auckland, 2015. Photo: Photosport

Venus rallied from a set behind against Colombian qualifier Alejandro Gonzalez to force a third-set tiebreak, the 27-year-old saving three match points as he won it 9-7 to claim the match 5-7 6-3 7-6 in just over two hours.

The last time a local made the second round at the expense of a foreigner was Mark Nielsen 13 years ago, who overcame a Swede in straight sets to advance. But Venus did it against an opponent ranked more than 300 places higher than him, to book a second round meeting with fifth-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo.

At world number 426 Venus was up against it, ranked 317 places lower than his opponent, the world number 109 Gonzalez. The Aucklander duly lost the first set despite immediately recovering from a service break to break back to 3-3, the Colombian breaking Venus in the last game to take the set 7-5.

The hometown favourite needed to get more first serves in and he gradually did that, also stepping up the ace count while repelling all five of Gonzalez's break point opportunities, while taking one of his two to go ahead 5-3, then served out the second set 6-3.

The third set was tight, both men breaking as it went to a tiebreak. Venus went behind but saved two match points to rally from 4-6 down to level it up at 6-6. Then the 27-year-old sent what would've been a winner long to again trail 6-7, but he held a second serve to tie it up 7-7, then smashed down his 18th ace of the match to grab a match point chance of his own. Venus held his nerve as Gonzalez faltered, the New Zealander sending a backhand winner down the line to claim the tiebreak 9-7, and with it the match.

Also in action on the second day was another local, Rubin Statham, also facing a Colombian qualifier, the lucky loser Alejandro Falla. Statham lost in straight sets in just under an hour and a quarter, his opponent ranked a huge 466 places higher than the Aucklander, Falla winning 6-4 6-4.

Statham has won a Heineken Open match, beating another New Zealander, Dan King-Turner, in the opening round in 2011 - when both were wildcards.

In other first round matches, Frenchman Kenny De Schepper upset the sixth seed, another Colombian, Santiago Giraldo 6-2 6-3. American Donald Young came back to knock out Japanese qualifier Go Soeda 6-7 6-1 6-3, Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely continued his run, beating Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci 6-3 7-6, rising Croatian Borna Coric was sent packing by higher-ranked Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4 6-3 and last year's finalist Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan beat Argentine veteran Juan Monaco 6-4 26 6-1.