This year’s Benalla Gardens Tennis Tournament's championship match kicked off under lights on Monday night.
In front of a small albeit healthy crowd, a tense three-set match was what the crowd had hoped for — and the match delivered exactly that.
In the end, it was Olivier Vautier who proved this year’s best, overcoming a slow start to win the championship over Michael Levy.
With it, Vautier becomes the first international player to claim the top prize, a deserved result for two months of improving, consistent, and quality tennis from the young Frenchman.
The match looked far from a tussle early, as Levy came out firing and Vautier looked slightly nervous. In less than 30 minutes Levy didn't drop a single game, taking the first set, 6-0, as he looked headed for a comfortable victory.
But Vautier’s game built. Shots he had missed he started to make, while Levy’s previous clean winners were run down.
With scores tight, one error or winner would decide most games. Though now, again and again, Vautier won the big points and the second set.
Both players lifted even further in the third set, as their thrilling rallies intensified.
Levy returned to the level he played throughout the first set, but unlike before, Vaultier only used the harder-hitting to increase his accuracy and hitting power back to the opposite side of the court.
And it was more than enough, too. Vautier held his nerve to take the third set, 6-2, and with it, the Benalla title.
Following his win, Vautier was visibly rapt to have claimed the most difficult local tournament to win.
“First time in Australia and my first tournament victory. What more can I ask for?” Vautier said.
“Tonight was a stressful match with a quality opponent. I thank Mick, Matt Crittenden and Jeremie Boulanger for including me and helping me to a higher level. Tennis helps my English level also. So for me, it’s so important.”
Vautier said the competition had also helped him settle into Benalla.
“I didn't know the level of tennis in Benalla when I arrived. And COVID-19 made meeting players or exercising difficult,” he said.
“I was happy I could still play while staying safe. It’s so important when you’re new to a place.”
After beating fellow Frenchman Jeremie Boulanger in the semi-finals, Levy had little to no answers for Vautier in the final match of the tournament.
“I tried my best, but Olivier just kept hitting corners and lines and his spots. It was out of my hands to a large degree. I knew he had this ability,” Levy said.
“I went to sleep for one game at the start of the second set. He broke and went up 2-0. It was all it took.
“He just got better and better. I kept having a go and didn't play that second set too poorly. Olivier was simply too good.”
A Benalla Gardens Club representative thanked all who had supported the tournament this year.
“Thank you to all the local businesses, members, and thanks to the small crowd that braved the fresh night to support the championships,” they said.
Next year’s championships are scheduled to be run earlier, in March, with the tennis community looking to add upcoming juniors and female players to the schedule.