Comeback queen Eliz Maloney completed a miraculous turnaround to reach the UK Pro League Week 2 final and revealed the secret key to her heroics – ‘I just hate losing’.
There's always a part of you that thinks no matter what the lead is, you can do it. I think it was so far away that it just took the pressure off. Eliz Maloney
Maloney twice battled back from the brink against Week 1 finalist Beth Grey to engineer a remarkable victory and book a date in Sunday’s final with unbeaten Emily Appleton.
Precocious Maloney, 20, found herself 5-1 down in both the second set and the super tie-break before eventually winning a thrilling decider 10-6.
She lost the first set 6-3 before winning the second on an 11-9 tie-break and Maloney, who competed at last summer’s UK Pro Classic in Weybridge, reckons her fierce competitiveness held the key to her escapology.
The Rickmansworth 20-year-old said: “I’m just a very competitive person and I really hate losing.
“There’s always a part of you that thinks no matter what the lead is, you can do it. I think it was so far away that it just took the pressure off.
“I just started swinging a bit more freely, and then just took each point a time. It just slowly built up.
“I’m very pleased, especially to build from the first week. I’m definitely [looking forward tomorrow].”
Maloney could only muster an eighth-place finish in Week 1 to pick up five ranking points – but now only Week 1 winner Appleton stands between her and a brilliant maximum haul of 18.
Appleton, 21, has been in imperious form since the tournament began and continued her remarkable Week 2 record of not dropping a set to march into Sunday’s final.
The Surrey star also dropped just a single set on the way to the Week 1 title – in the semi-finals against Freya Christie – and carried on where she left off by easing past the talented Alice Gillan 6-0 6-2 in the last four.
Appleton is sparkling under the Loughborough lights and hailed the innovative UK Pro League format for giving her a long-awaited opportunity to compete.
“I’m really happy – to play good tennis in the semis is always tough and I think today I was able to do that,” she said.
“It’s just the opportunity to compete – honestly, it was three months without competing and I was just training every single day and it was very repetitive.
“But I’m thankful that it was worth it because it’s paying off now.”
The Premier League of British tennis and brainchild of Jamie Delgado – Andy Murray’s coach – the UK Pro League brings together the country’s top professional players and runs across nine separate weeks from March to November.
The season-long competition involves players competing in a round robin format in eight individual qualifying weeks, with the weekend play-offs then giving them the chance to accumulate ranking points to seal qualification for November’s Finals Week.
In the men’s competition, Anton Matusevich continued his dazzling run of form to emulate Appleton and also storm into the Week 2 final without dropping a set.
The 19-year-old, who finished third in Week 1 behind Joshua Paris and Billy Harris, raced past Sean Hodkin 7-5 6-2 in the day’s opening semi-final to send yet another statement of intent to his rivals.
And he will meet British No.18 Mark Whitehouse in Sunday’s final, who toppled the experienced Dan Cox for the first time in his career in a heart-thumping last four duel.
Whitehouse finished seventh in Week 1 but has been in red-hot form in Loughborough after topping the Pool B table.
And he chose the perfect time to finally break his duck against Cox, winning 10-3 in a super tie-break to tee up a tantalising Sunday showdown with Matusevich.
Cox, 30, has twice reached the first round at Wimbledon and Whitehouse revelled in banishing his demons when it mattered most.
The 27-year-old said: “I save my one win just for the semi-final!
“I think the match tie breaks are a bit of a lottery. He made a couple of mistakes where if we played it again he might make, or I might play different shots, so I was lucky today it went my way.”
Both Whitehouse and Matusevich are renowned for their big hitting and Whitehouse is predicting a blockbuster encounter on Sunday.
The Reigate star added: “I think we both like to hit the ball pretty big.
“We’re both going to try and take the felt off the ball, I think!”
With a prize fund of around £500k and Broadcast live on BT Sport, the UK Pro League is the only place where the British player group come together to compete across the full year.