Defending champions Henri Kontinen and John Peers needed 12 match points to earn their first round-robin victory in Group Eltingh/Haarhuis on Tuesday at the Nitto ATP Finals, held at The O2 in London.
The second-seeded Finnish-Australian team overcame 2015 titlist and third seeds Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Romania’s Horia Tecau 7-6(3), 7-6(6) in a tense one-hour and 45-minute encounter. The teams had previously met on three occasions this year (Dubai, ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Montreal and the US Open).
With their first victory this week, Kontinen and Peers are now 39-17 on the season that includes four titles. They will now prepare to play Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut on Thursday, while Rojer and Tecau (0-2 this week) next face Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus.
Rojer and Tecau started aggressively, net rushing, but could not convert three break points on Peers’ serve in the second game or a 0/30 lead on Kontinen’s serve in the fourth game. Kontinen and Peers remained patient and were gifted Tecau’s serve for a 3-2 lead courtesy of a double fault.
When Peers served for the first set at 5-4, Rojer and Tecau remembered their high-energy, dynamic play of the early exchanges and at 30/40, when Kontinen crossed, Tecau struck a forehand winner down the line. The comeback was short-lived, as Kontinen and Peers played the perfect tie-break, winning five of the first six points. The 50-minute opener ended with Tecau rushing to strike a lob, which landed long of the baseline.
Now full of confidence, Kontinen and Peers raised their games on Tecau’s serve in the fourth game of the second set, converting a deciding deuce point for a 3-1 lead when Tecau punched a high backhand volley long. What followed was a battle of nerve.
At 5-4, Peers looked calm in serving for the match and got to 40/0. But Tecau raised his groundstroke power level and the third seeds saved four match points to break. Three more match points went unconverted on Rojer’s serve at 4-5, as the Dutchman and Tecau battled back from 15/40. An eighth chance on a deciding deuce point at 5-6, on Tecau’s serve, was saved. Rojer and Tecau recovered three more match points from 3/6 in the tie-break.
The winner finally came from Peers, with a forehand winner into space at 7/6 to give the Australian and Kontinen their sixth win in seven matches at the prestigious season finale.