Tommy Robredo took off his shades, then turned in the most eye-popping passing shot of the day.
A devious kick serve from Kevin Anderson sent Robredo into such deep retreat that he nearly knocked his knee into the court-side clock. The lunging return that floated short presented a slam-dunk smash for the 6’8” South African, but his overhead didn’t create closure. Robredo did.
Streaking across the court, Robredo curled a short-angled forehand pass cross-court on the full stretch for his first break point of the final set.
Contesting his first career clay-court final, Anderson put himself in winning positions, but a driven Robredo managed the margins shrewdly on pivotal points to capture his first title in two years with a tense, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3 victory in the Casablanca final. It is Robredo’s 11th career title; the 30-year-old Spaniard has won eight of his last nine clay-court finals.
It was a match of comeback finalists. Anderson underwent elbow surgery on January 21, returned in Delray Beach, and entered his second final of the season with a 17-5 record -- the best start of his career. Former world No. 5 Robredo has been rebuilding a career disrupted for five months last season due to a leg injury.
Contrasting patterns emerged early, with Anderson targeting Robredo’s one-handed backhand with that confounding kicker that can reach runaway kite heights on the ad side. Robredo, meanwhile, spun some jamming serves into the bigger man’s body to set up his sweeping forehand. Anderson’s two-handed backhand is usually a very dependable shot, but it betrayed him in the first-set tiebreaker as he sailed a two-hander deep to give Robredo a set point at 7-6. Robredo spun a second serve into Anderson’s left hip, and the backhand return missed the mark.
The tension from the tiebreaker subsided and Robredo drifted, donating a break with his second double fault. Anderson backed it up brilliantly with four commanding serves to the Robredo backhand and a couple of fine serve-and-volley winners, holding for a 2-0 second-set lead.
Robredo, who served just 37 percent in the second set, then hammered a forehand return to earn his lone break point of the second set. Anderson erased it, using the inside-out forehand to set up a down-the-line forehand that a running Robredo could not control. The second seed held for 4-2 and was not challenged on serve in leveling the match.
One of only four active men with 200 career clay-court wins, Robredo lost to Guillermo Canas in the 2001 Casablanca final and is sometimes obscured in the shadows of fellow Spaniards. He doesn’t have Rafael Nadal’s physicality, David Ferrer’s quickness or Nicolas Almagro’s explosiveness, but Robredo has keen court sense, is a resourceful player who reads the game well, and can clean the lines with his forehand.
Facing two break points at 2-2 in the decider, Robredo tempted his opponent with an off-pace slice backhand, but Anderson found the top of the tape with his forehand. On the second break point, Robredo drew a backhand error for deuce, then took a moment to adjust the sport sunglasses he wore for much of the match. Launching himself above the court, Robredo hit his only ace of the set, unleashing a roar and shaking his Dunlop racquet repeatedly, like a judge hammering home a decision, slamming down the gavel to hold for 3-2.
Serving for his 10th career clay-court title, Robredo fought off nerves when he double faulted to face double break point at 15-40. Then it was Anderson's turn to tighten: He looked surprised by a short second serve and flattened a backhand into net on the first break point before Robredo saved the second with a stinging serve. Robredo, who beat top-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka in the semifinals, fought off all four break points he faced in the final set.
On match point, Anderson's forehand careened off the top of the tape (brushes with the tape haunted him today) and fell wide; Robredo dropped to his knees and threw his head back with a celebration scream. He arose with red clay caked to his knees and a smile plastered across his face.