Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Lajal takes Little Rock Open title

by Sam Lane | June 5, 2023 at 2:41 a.m.
Mark Lajal returns a shot during the Little Rock Open men's final championship match at the Rebsamen Tennis Center on Sunday, June 4, 2023. Lajal would go on to win the match in straight sets over Beibit Zhukayev. See more photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

Mark Lajal of Estonia was crowned the 42nd winner of the Little Rock Open on Sunday afternoon at the Rebsamen Tennis Center in front of the largest crowd in tournament history.

Fans packed the stadium seating and lined the opposite side with lawn chairs two rows deep to see Lajal defeat Kazakhstan's Beibit Zhukayev 6-4, 7-5 and claim his first ATP Challenger event victory.

"I played some good tennis the whole week," Lajal told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Some matches I wasn't playing my best tennis, but I'm happy because you can't always play your best tennis, and you still have to find a way to win. So, that's what I managed to do. And you know, played against some really good guys, and I'm really happy to get the win."

Lajal, 20, and Zhukayev, 22, went back-and-forth for the first eight games of the day before the former won two in a row to take the first set.

Lajal, the No. 311-ranked men's singles player, fell behind in the second set 5-4 but rallied to win three games in a row, taking the set and the match.

"It's tough to play [Zhukayev] because he serves big," Lajal said. "He's really tough to return, and you know, sometimes he could play some big shots, and you make some mistakes. First set. I was really happy that I got the break in the end. And second set, you know, I dropped my focus at four-all, so he broke me. But then I was super focused. I knew that the game before I was close to breaking, so I knew that I could do it again. Once I got the game, I knew that I was gonna do it."

Lajal turned 20 on May 12. So while Sunday's victory was a few weeks too late to be a birthday present, it was a welcomed sight for just his 12th Challenger event since turning professional in 2021.

"I'm not complaining and you know, if someone would have told me a week ago that I was going to win the tournament, I would not have believed them," Lajal said.

To end each year's trophy ceremony at the conclusion of the Little Rock Open, Tournament Director Chip Stearns lets both finalists know that while he'd love to see them back in Arkansas, competing for another trophy, he hopes they use the tournament as a launching pad into the next chapter of their careers.

Lajal said his next goal is to make the qualifying round of the U.S. Open and thinks a win in Little Rock puts him on that path.

"I love Little Rock, but I hope it's gonna be my last time here," Lajal said with a smile. "My goal is to make it to the qualifiers of the U.S. Open. This obviously helps a lot. So you know, I will keep on training hard, being focused and you know, giving my best and we will see what the summer brings."

 Gallery: Little Rock Open Men's Final

Print Headline: Lajal takes Little Rock Open title


Sponsor Content