A bright and sunny day with light wind were the weather conditions on the opening day of the Optima Open in Knokke-Heist, Belgium. Lots of people came to watch the stars from the past and there was a very relaxed atmosphere at the Royal Zoute Tennis Club among the spectators and among the players, who were walking around the grounds and signing autographs to anyone who asked.
Play kicked off at 2:30 P.M. local time with a match from group 2 between defending champion Goran Ivanisevic and Belgium’s Xavier Malisse. The two players, who had met twice before on the ATP Tour, were playing their first match at the ATP Champions Tour.
Ivanisevic was the first to break serve when he took advantage of his second breakpoint opportunity with a great down-the-line forehand to go ahead 2-1. A sloppy next game got Malisse back into the match as he used his third breakpoint chance to level at two games all. Serving at 2-3 down, Ivanisevic got into trouble again but saved the breakpoint with a good serve. He couldn’t prevent Malisse from breaking his next service game, though, as he hit an forehand error on Malisse’s second chance in that game. The X-man got 5-3 ahead and served out the set with an ace to take the opener 6-3.
In the second set, it was again Ivanisevic with the first chances to break but Malisse served his way out of trouble to make it one all. Malisse did use his chance in the next game as the Croatian hit a volley long to go 2-1 up. More trouble for Ivanisevic in the seventh game as he’d faced another breakpoint but he saved it with some good net play and held on to make it 3-4. Ivanisevic got his chance to get back in the second set in the next game but some solid serving from the Belgian bailed him out of trouble. Serving to stay in the match at 3-5 he faced a matchpoint. The one at 30-40 he managed to ace away but two points later Malisse had sealed the deal. Ivanisevic joked in the on court interview that his opponent was way too young at only 34 years of age and only nine months off the regular tour, but he had enjoyed the match anyway. He also said he was looking forward to playing “grandfather” Pat Cash next. Malisse said he got off to a good start and he hopes to make unday’s final.
The second match of the day was the exhibition match between Pat Cash/Dominique Monami vs Mansour Bahrami/Sabine Appelmans. The two Belgian ladies, also the on court speakers and hosts at the Optima Open, could show the crowd that they could still hit a decent ball as the crowd got treated to a match with breathtaking rallies and lots of nice angled volleys and other trickshots, but what else is to be expected when you’ve got Mansour Bahrami on court ?, Cash/Monami won the match 8-5 (proset). Many people are already eagerly anticipating the next doubles exhibition featuring the Iranian ball magician Bahrami.
Another ball magician came on court straight afterwards as Frenchman Fabrice Santoro took on Greg Rusedski from Great Britain in a match from group one. It was a clash between two totally different players, the serve & volleying and the chip & charging from Rusedski versus the slicing and dicing from Santoro. Already from the first point both players stuck to their strategies and we got very interesting rallies right away. Santoro was the first to get an inside look on his opponents service game at 3-2 when he got it to 15-40. Rusedski saved them with some good net play and with a good serve and even survives a third breakpoint to level at three games all. Santoro earned another chance in Rusedski’s next service game and this time he managed to break as Rusedski netted a volley when 30-40 down. Santoro served it out to take the opening set 6-3.
Rusedski went ahead 15-40 on the Santoro serve in the second game of the second set but Santoro saved both, the first one with a lob which Rusedski couldn’t handle and the second with a good serve and hold for one all. Rudenski got a chance himself in the next game and with a great passing shot went 2-1 up. In the seventh game Santoro got more break opportunities and with a typical Santoro down the line slice shot he broke again for 5-2. A couple of minutes later Santoro acceptsed the congratulations from his good friend as he won 6-3 6-2. He has a strong chance of reaching the final, but his countryman Henri Leconte will probably have other ideas about that. They will play against eachother in the final match on Friday.
Friday’s order of play at the Optima Open in Knokke-Heist, Belgium
2:30 P.M. (local time) Xavier Malisse vs Pat Cash
Greg Rusedski/Dick Norman vs Mansour Bahrami/Goran Ivanisevic
Fabrice Santoro vs Henri Leconte