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Sweeting Tops Nishikori To Win Houston Title

Houston, U.S.A.

Ryan Sweeting© Aaron M. Sprecher/ROCCRyan Sweeting takes the champions' plunge at the River Oaks Country Club.

In his debut appearance in an ATP World Tour final, American wild card Ryan Sweeting prevailed against Japanese No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-6(3) Sunday in Houston to clinch the title at the US Men's Clay Court Championship.

In the youngest tour-level final this season, the 23-year-old Sweeting broke the 21-year-old Nishikori late in the first set and faced down three set points in the 10th game of the second set before clinching the victory on his first of three match points in the tie-break.

“That game was very crucial,” Sweeting said of holding at 5-all. “It was definitely an important hold for me. I think it was a 20-minute long game. It definitely wore me out a little bit. I knew that I wanted to try and win the second set, obviously, to win the match, but it was a good hold and I felt that it gave me a little bit of momentum going into the rest of the set. It sort of hit him a little harder that he didn’t get the break – he had a lot of break points – but I just fought hard today.”

Sweeting became the first U.S. champion at this ATP World Tour 250 tournament since Mardy Fish in 2006 after American players finished runners-up each of the past three years. He also became the fifth first-time winner on the ATP World Tour this season, following Pablo Andujar’s victory at the Grand Prix Hassan II earlier Sunday.

“I’m most happy about the way I performed under pressure,” he said. “It was my first final and I felt I stayed calm, I stayed focused. I didn’t let the moment get to me and nerves get to me, which has happened to me in the past before, so I felt that I competed well at an important time in my career.”

World No. 93 Sweeting, who is projected to climb to No. 71 after earning 250 South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings points this week, improved to a 10-6 season record. He had reached one tour-level quarter-final prior to this week, resulting in a loss to Nishikori in Delray Beach this past February.

En route to the final, he had upset 2010 finalist and No. 2 seed Sam Querrey in the second round and past champion Ivo Karlovic in the semi-finals.

Nishikori had claimed the Delray Beach title in 2008 in his only other appearance in ATP World Tour final, and said about his performance Sunday: “I was struggling today, missing a lot with easy shots and he was more aggressive than me, so that’s why I was struggling, I guess. It was a final and I really wanted to win today, but I think that made me a little tight.”

He is projected to break into the Top 50 of the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings with his showing this week, putting his goal of surpassing Shuzo Matsuako’s career-high mark of No. 46 within reach.

“It’s one of my goals, but if I play good it’s going to come for sure sometime,” he said. “Hopefully I can get to 45 as soon as possible. It’ll be good for me, but I think it’s going to come sometime if I can play like this in every tournament.”

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