South Africa's Kevin Anderson narrowly missed out on a third ATP World Tour title on Saturday when he went down to Australia's Bernard Tomic in the final of the Apia International in Sydney.
It was a continuation of a run of good form for South Africa's top player. In the lead-up to the event, in the Hopman Cup, he had defeated Spain's Fernando Verdasco and the USA's John Isner, and lost narrowly to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6-7-6.
When facing top players, it appears that Anderson has turned a corner. He now appears to have found a tougher mental edge, and to have improved his all-round game, which allows him to eke out wins in tight situations.
In Sydney, the 26-year-old opened his challenge with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Aljaz Bedene and followed that up with a 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Feliciano Lopez. Then, in the quarterfinals, Anderson disposed of Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-3 to set up a semi-final clash with Julien Benneteau.
The Frenchman had won their two previous meetings in straight sets, but Anderson turned the tables this time around. In a very tight contest, the big serving South African emerged a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 victor after winning the tie-breaker 8-6.
On the other side of the draw, Australia's Bernard Tomic worked his way to the final. The 20-year-old, like Anderson, had performed superbly in the Hopman Cup, winning all his matches, including a 6-4, 6-4 victory over world number one Novak Djokovic.
In Sydney, he dropped only one set, a tie-breaker, on his way to the title-deciding match and was in the form of his life, playing in front of local support, with his confidence at an all-time high as he headed into the final. It was a clash of the tall timber as the 6'5" Tomic faced the 6'8" Anderson.
The Australian jumped out ahead early on by breaking Anderson in his very first service game. With the contest following serve, he went on to capture the first set 6-3.
Anderson dominated the second set, dropping only two points on serve, but could not break Tomic, who was forced onto the back foot and deep behind the baseline by Anderson's relentless attacking play.
Eventually, the set was decided by a tie-breaker and it came as no surprise when the South African won it 7-2, given his form throughout the set.
Forced a break
Tomic managed to lift his form in the final set. No longer defending, he took the match to Anderson and forced a break, ultimately going on to a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win.
It was a first ATP World Tour title for the Aussie, who made the Wimbledon quarterfinals as an 18-year-old in 2011.
The win lifted Tomic to 43rd in the world rankings. Anderson is ranked 31st, three places below his career high.