Akiel Duke

LOOKING TO CUT LOOSE: Akiel Duke prepares to hit a backhand. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

NABEEL MOHAMMED was crowned men’s A Division singles champion for the second year in succession when the curtain fell on the East Clubs Classified Tennis Tournament, yesterday, at Trinidad Country Club, Maraval.

The 22-year-old won the battle of the country’s top-two ranked players 6-3, 7-6 (8/6) over Akiel Duke for the spotlight title in the two-weekend tournament.

With Mohammed already having the first set comfortably in hand and possessing a 3-0 two-break advantage in the second, the fat lady was already approaching the podium. But the top seed played very carelessly in his next two service games and in a blink of an eye found himself trailing 4-3.

Both players then held serve until the tie-break and it seemed for all the world that a deciding “match tiebreak” would follow when Duke went up 6-3. But then Mohammed found a way to summon his best tennis and with the help of some nervy moments from his opponent, he rattled off the last five points to avoid another “sudden death.”

Although Duke is a model of consistency, having been ranked in the top two in the country for the majority of the last five years, his record in open singles finals is abysmal.

The 27-year-old has reached the title match of the last five editions of the Tranquillity Open, but his only title came two years ago, then he went on to lose to Mohammed in the final of the last National Championships contested a few months later.

Duke did beat fellow Davis Cup player Dexter Mahase to lift the trophy in the San Fernando Club Tournament early last year, but that competition was open only to players from that zone.

The “East” tournament followed the same path in its first two years, but it was opened to players from registered clubs all over the country this time. After retaining his title in Nationals over Duke in the middle of 2019, Mohammed won the East title to begin his season last year January.

The former national junior champ then completed a hat-trick of singles titles with his second straight crown in the St James Club Tournament in February, a few weeks before the coronavirus forced a shutdown. However, the streak was broken when he returned 11 months later and lost to eventual champ Vaughn Wilson in semi-finals of Tranquil.

In a match in which the players’ combined age was just 30, national Under-18 champ Aalisha Alexis had defeated 14-year-old Jordane Dookie 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 for the women’s equivalent crown the day before.

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