Friday report from 2014 Optima Open ATP Champions Tour Tennis in Knokke-Heist, Belgium
Duncan Lau, Tennis East CoastA rainy start of the day in Knokke-Heist as play did not get underway until 3.30 pm. The spectators either hung around centre court or enjoyed themselves in the public village where all kinds of activities were going on. Shopping at the Scapa Sports store, trying to serve as fast as Rusedski and Ivanisevic at the serving contest, getting financial advice at the Optima stand or simply enjoying the variety of food and drink options available.
First up was the match between Xavier Malisse and Pat Cash, two players from totally different generations. Powerful baseline shots vs serve and volley. Malisse could be considered the favourite beforehand after beating Goran Ivanisevic on Thursday and with the 15 year age gap in his favour as well. Already in the opening game Malisse showed what his intentions were for this match. He mishit a forehand on his first breakpoint and could not do anything about the second because of a great serve but he did use his third chance as Cash hit a backhand wide. In the second game Cash gots his chance to get the break back after a Malisse double fault but Malisse repaired the damage by hitting a good serve and eventually held. At 0-2 down Cash saves another breakpoint with a good volley and from that moment on we got to see a very interesting match with as expected the baseline dominance from Malisse and some really magnificent net reflexes from the 49 year old Australian. Malisse got his first setpoint at 5-3 on the Cash serve but a good volley from the 1987 Wimbledon champion made it deuce. Malisse had to serve it out himself to take the opener 6-4.
Already in the opening game of the second set X-man get to breakpoint but a good serve and volley point from Cash saved him from dropping his serve right away like in the first set. At 2 games all Malisse went up 15-40 on the Cash serve, Cash hit a great stopvolley first but forehand passing from the Belgian proved to be too much for him. Serving to stay in the match at 3-5 Cash was in trouble again and with a good lob Malisse sealed the deal and won 6-4 6-3. With this win Malisse is the first player to qualify for Sunday’s final. In an on court interview he discussed how he enjoyed playing in front of a Belgian crowd as there are not many events in Belgium. It’s not as serious as the matches on the ATP Tour but the combination of entertainment and competitive tennis made it very pleasant.
The match was followed by the all French battle between Fabrice Santoro and Henri Leconte from group 1. This was a much anticipated match as both are very gifted players who both hit beautiful shots and can combine those with the entertainment that is such an important part of the ATP Champions tour. Both men began by hitting one beautiful shot after another. Santoro was the first to break as his lob at 15-40 in the third game is too good for Leconte. With Santoro leading 4-2 the match was suspended because of rain. In the last point before the delay Santoro joked around playing with an umbrella in his hand. When the players came back on Santoro got another breakpoint which Leconte saved with a big forehand winner. He saved another one with a good volley but the third is one too many as he netted a backhand which gave Santoro a 5-2 lead. Santoro served it out to 15 to take the opener 6-2.
Already in the opening game of the second set Santoro broke the Leconte serve again as Leconte missed a volley down 30-40. Even though both men want to win putting on a show for the crowd is very important to them both and as a result we see many trickshots and other unusual ones, we even see a young boy filling in for Leconte as he doesn’t know how to handle the tricky shots from his friend. All in all a very entertaining match with Santoro winning 6-2 6-4, which books the Frenchman a place in Sunday’s final vs Xavier Malisse.
Saturday’s order of play
2:30 P.M. Goran Ivanisevic vs Pat Cash
Greg Rusedski vs Henri Leconte
J.McEnroe/M.Seles vs M.Bahrami/K.Clijsters
Xavier Malisse def. Pat Cash 6-4 6-3
Fabrice Santoro def. Henri Leconte 6-2 6-4
X.Malisse/D.Norman def. G.Rusedski/G.Ivanisevic 7-3