Duncan Lau, Tennis East Coast
It was a chilly, rainy and windy day at the Optima Open today, where fans anxiously awaited the final between Frenchman Fabrice Santoro and Belgian Xavier Malisse. It was not really a surprise that the two players who most recently departed the tour made it through to the final. Malisse was considered the favorite in this match as the Belgian had won all four previous encounters with the French magician, even though only one of those four matches ended in a straight sets victory. Malisse had qualified for the final by beating defending champion Goran Ivanisevic and 2010 Optima Open runner-up Pat Cash. Santoro had gotten past Greg Rusedski and fellow Frenchman Henri Leconte. In Saturday action, Ivanisevic had claimed second position in group two by beating Cash 6-4 6-4. This was already the third time these two had met on Belgian soil, as Ivanisevic had also beaten the Australian at the ECC exhibition tournament in Antwerp in 1990 and here in the Optima Open final in 2010. Rusedski finished second in group one with a 7-5 6-3 win over Leconte in the first match between these two.
Both Malisse and Santoro got off to a good start with neither player giving the other one a look into their service games. The rain started to come down in the sixth game in which Malisse got to 15-40 on the Santoro serve and it was hard for both players to move on the slippery court. Play was suspended at deuce and after a short break the players returned to the court and Malisse took the first two points to get the first break of serve. This proved enough to take the opening set 6-3. Malisse managed to get to 15-40 in the opening game of the second set, but Santoro saved both with aces and saved a third one with a good lob. At 2 all, X-man got a break opportunity again because of a Santoro double fault but he missed an easy passing which got the Frenchman back in the game. A volley error by Santoro and a forehand winner from the Belgian gave Malisse the break to go up 3-2. Malisse got into trouble in the next game, but with some great shotmaking he came back from 0-40 to clinch the game and take a 4-2 lead. The big hitting Belgian then broke again at 5-3 to clinch the match 6-3 6-3.
It was a fun match for fans to watch as you saw big ground strokes vs artistic touch shots. In his victory speech, Malisse said it was a lot of fun to play an event like this and joked about the fact that he had to run a lot more in this match against Santoro than in a regular match on the ATP tour. He also signaled his desire to play here again if he gets another invitation.
The match was followed by another eagerly awaited match, the exhibition in which we got to see three former world number ones and the number one ball magician in the world. John McEnroe/Monica Seles vs Kim Clijsters/Mansour Bahrami. They had also played the final match on Saturday, which the latter had won 9-7. Under supervision of Chair Umpire Henri Leconte, we got to see some beautiful rallies, but unfortunately rain interrupted play in the sixth game. The rain got even heavier later in the evening and the match was cancelled altogether. The tournament got a nice closure with a signing session from McEnroe and Clijsters which was well attended as almost everyone wanted a picture with the Belgian and the American legend. It was a well-organized tournament which again proved why it is easily one of the most popular events on the Champions Tour. See you again in 2015 !
Xavier Malisse def. Fabrice Santoro 6-3 6-3
McEnroe/Seles vs Bahrami/Clijsters 3-2 cancelle