FOR one set, it looked like North Vancouver teen tennis phenom Filip Peliwo might not have to pay his dues like most everyone else as he makes the jump from the junior ranks to the pros.
Peliwo was on stadium court at Hollyburn Country Club Tuesday night taking on Taiwan's Jimmy Wang in the evening feature match of the opening round of the Odlum Brown VanOpen. Facing a player nine years older than him and 409 spots higher in the world singles rankings, the 18year-old Wimbledon junior champion went toe-to-toe with Wang throughout the first set.
Mixing in some go-for-it shots, rookie mistakes and solid strokes, Peliwo kept it close in the first, battling off two set points while down 5-4 to eventually send the set to a tiebreaker. In the tiebreak he again fell behind, struggling early to trail 4-1, but recovered with a comeback punctuated by a scorching forehand winner to tie it at 4-4. That, however, was the high point of the match for Peliwo as Wang would go on to win the next three points to take the set before taking complete control in the second to win 7-6(4), 6-0.
After the match Peliwo said he was disappointed that he lost but happy that he played confident tennis and went for his shots. Those shots didn't always find the court but at least he went down swinging.
"I know I didn't play my best but I went for it - I can't really regret anything," he said. "I go for my shots. If I'm not on top of my game I can adjust sometimes and play it a bit safer but at this level it's tougher to do that because if you play too safe then they're going to roll you off the court."
Peliwo is in the middle of a breakout season on the junior tour that saw him reach the Australian and French Open finals before breaking through with his win at Wimbledon. Tuesday's match, his first home court contest as a pro, was not as pressure-packed as those junior Grand Slam finals, he said. A large section of fans cheered him back to the court after every changeover and even got a wave going.
"I don't even know those people, that made it even better - I owe them a big thanks," he said with a laugh. "It was kind of a more relaxed atmosphere in the sense that everyone was having fun and cheering loud. I thought I'd loosen up a little bit and enjoy the moment - people were doing the wave or saying 'Let's go Peliwo' - it takes the pressure off your shoulders."
The pressure will return, however, as Peliwo continues to make the transition from junior to the pros. He's got a few junior events left, highlighted by the U.S. Open, before he makes the jump full-time to the professional ranks.
When next year's VanOpen rolls around Peliwo hopes to be well on his way up the rankings and in a position to do some damage at the tournament he grew up watching.
"I'm looking forward to playing back here in years to come," he said. "The crowd was amazing - it was the first time they've seen me and they're already so great."
Amongst the crowd watching Peliwo on Tuesday night was a member of tennis royalty - five-time Grand Slam singles winner Martina Hingis ("I tried not to think about that," said Peliwo after his match). The retired Swiss superstar was on hand to show off a tennis fashion line she designed with Vancouver-based apparel company Tonic. Despite Peliwo's loss, Hingis said she was impressed with the North Vancouverite's game and resumÃ©.
"He's done great - I wish the best of luck for him," she told the North Shore News. "The transition from junior tennis to professional, it's not always easy but he seems to be fine with it. He had a few opportunities which he didn't take but he'll learn from that. He just has to keep his head up and keep going, moving forward."
Hingis knows a thing or two about being a young tennis star - she burst onto the professional scene at the age of 14 and still hold a number of youngest-ever records, including becoming the youngest player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world. From the age of eight Peliwo has maintained that his goal is to become the No. 1 player in the world and Hingis had a few simple words of wisdom to offer him.
"Just keep working hard," she said. "He's got the game to back it up so he's got a lot of potential."
On Wednesday it was Hingis who took centre stage at the VanOpen, taking on Canadian pro Sharon Fichman in an exhibition match. Charming the crowd with verbal jousts at her opponent, the umpires and even the crowd, Hingis kept the mood light.
"No more drop shots," she yelled at Fichman after the Canadian made her sprint to the net one too many times. On the next point, of course, Hingis scored with a delicate drop shot of her own. In fact, Hingis displayed a whole arsenal of shots in the match, showing the skill that made her a tennis legend. Though she hasn't played a WTA match since retiring in late 2007, the 31year-old looked as if she could step right back onto the tour and compete for Grand Slam titles again. That, however, is not going to happen.
"Playing one match is different than playing a whole tournament, being on the court all the time," she said after finishing off a 6-3, 6-3 win over Fichman, adding that exhibition tennis is a lot different than the grind of playing day-afterday. "It's fun to get out there and still get excited about playing. I've been playing a lot more this year - I just came from playing team tennis so I was well prepared. I was happy about that, that I could still show some good tennis."
Hingis also had some very kind words for the event and the club, comparing Hollyburn favourably to another fairly famous tennis venue.
"It's really one of the prettiest clubs in the world that I've ever seen," she said. "It's close to even like Wimbledon, you know, with the views. It's a different atmosphere but it's just amazing with the ice rinks and the facilities, how it has so much to offer."
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Elsewhere at the Open North Vancouver's Philip Bester was ousted in the first round in a tough three-set match against French qualifier Gleb Sakharov. Bester, however, rebounded to win his opening round doubles match with partner Phillip Simmonds of the United States, defeating the Australian duo of Chris Guccione and Matt Reid in straight sets. The two Phillips took on Belgium's Maxime Authom and Ruben Bemelmans in a quarterfinal match Friday after press time in the stadium court evening feature.
The women's doubles final is scheduled for Saturday while the women's singles and men's doubles and singles finals will be played Sunday. For updated schedules and results visit www. vanopen.com.
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