Sunday, 30 September 2012

Words of wisdom from pros

SPANIARD David Ferrer may be small in stature but his renowned work-ethic and never-say-die attitude on court should be an inspiration to all.

The 30-year-old, who for the past five years has been a permanent fixture in the top 10 of the world rankings, is at a humble 1.74m -- an oddity amongst the elite of world tennis.

Ferrer, who is also a decorated Davis Cup player with three titles to his name, is currently the smallest player in a top 10 largely dominated by players breaching the 1.85m mark.

The Xabia-born Ferrer who, however, looked jaded after a gruelling season during his defeat to Frenchman Julien Benneteau yesterday, left a few words of wisdom for budding young Malaysian tennis players.

"I feel it is very important for young players to have a lot of fun and also enjoy playing the game if they are to develop," said Ferrer, who won his first career title on clay in Bucharest, Romania in 2002.

"It is, however, also very important to work hard if you want to succeed in the game.

"I work hard, but wouldn't say I am the hardest working player on tour as players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray also work very hard to be where they are."

Juan Monaco, who boasts six career singles titles to date and could make it seven should he emerge triumphant in today's Malaysian Open final against Benneteau, echoed Ferrer's sentiments.

"When you are a child, it is always important to be happy and make friends when you are involved in tennis," said the Argentine, who has won three titles this year.

"Even if you have the talent or qualities to turn pro, there is still a lot of hard work to be done to make it, which is why it is important to enjoy it (the sport)."

No journey far enough for hard core enthusiasts

CARRYING nothing more than a small luggage bag and a packet of 'nasi lemak', student-athletes of Universiti Malaysia Perlis (Unimap) made a 12-hour journey from Arau, Perlis on Friday just to catch the semi-finals of the ATP Malaysian Open at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

It was a dream come true experience for the 50-odd students and coaches, who had never watched world class tennis despite being actively involved in university-level competitions.

Unimap, an engineering-based university located just 35 kilometres from the Thai border, is an excellence centre for tennis under the Higher Education Ministry.

Head coach Amir Ahmad thanked tournament organisers IMG and the ministry for providing them with tickets.

"We chartered a bus when we were informed about it. Everyone in our tennis club was excited when I told them about the tickets," said Amir at Putra Stadium yesterday.

Amir, 30, was a former top junior who represented Perlis in the Malaysia Games and local tournaments.

Besides sponsoring tickets, IMG also treated them with mini-tennis games, like the speed-serve calculator, inside the stadium.

Unimap's No 1 ranked player Mohd Azim Zainal Abidin was excited to watch his idol, Spaniard David Ferrer in the semi-finals.

"I have a lot of stories to tell my friends in Arau. Although, I did not get to meet my idol in person, just watching him here was enough," said Mohd Azim. "

The students left for Arau immediately after the semi-finals as they could not get time-off from classes.

Benneteau-Monaco showdown

Julien Benneteau finally beat a player from the top 10 when he overcame top seed David Ferrer yesterday. Pic by Goh Thean Howe

FRENCHMAN Julien Benneteau upset top seed David Ferrer of Spain to gain his first tour win over a top-10 player this season in the semi-finals of the ATP Malaysian Open yesterday.

The seventh seed plays Argentine Juan Monaco in his seventh career final at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil today.

Monaco bounced back from 5-3 down in the third set and even saved a match point to edge Japan's World No 17 Kei Nishikori 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4) and the World No 11, who has won three out of the four finals this season, is the favourite to nail his first title in Asia.

Benneteau has not won a singles title since turning professional in 2000, losing all six finals and his last appearance was in Sydney earlier this year.

The World No 34 overcame a jittery start in the first set before overcoming Ferrer, the World No 5, 6-4, 6-1 in 97 minutes.

Both struggled to hold serve in the opening set as they exchanged breaks on four occasions before Benneteau got the decisive break in the 10th game to hold the advantage.

Benneteau then raced to a 4-0 lead, breaking the fast-tiring Ferrer twice, in the second but had difficulty closing out the match on his serve at 5-1-up and only managed to seal a win on his seventh match point.

"I told my coach (Loic Courteau) yesterday (Friday) that I haven't beaten a top-10 player this season and how this would be a nice time," said a delighted Benneteau.

"There were no easy points against Ferrer and my second serve was not good, especially in the first set. It is something that I need to fix ahead of the final."

Ferrer congratulated his opponent for his well-deserved win.

"I had chances to close the match but I did not take them. Benneteau played a good match and he deserves to be in the final," said the 30-year-old Ferrer.

Benneteau, 30, has never played Monaco on the tour but the Frenchman believes he has a solid chance of winning his first career title.

"The final could be similar to today's (yesterday) game and I will try my best to stay aggressive," Benneteau added.

Nishikori, meanwhile, had two medical time-outs for treatment on his ankle and calf before the third set but the third seed could have won it if he had kept his nerves.

Monaco had broken twice for a 5-2 lead in the first set before Nishikori called for a time-out and it appeared at first, on his return, he was still troubled by it.

In the second set, Nishikori played a variety of shots and broke his opponent twice to level proceedings.

It looked like plain sailing for the Japanese in the third as he led 4-1 and at 5-3 had a match point before Monaco rallied back to force a tie-break.

Monaco was in the lead throughout the tie-break, leading 4-2 at one stage before clinching the winning point for his first indoor final this season.

"After I had won the first set, Nishikori came back stronger and played very well. There were ups and downs for me in the third but I fought back and won the important points.

"I am very happy with the way I finished but Benneteau will be tough as he plays a good baseline game," said Monaco.

Results, S-finals

Men's singles: Juan Monaco (Arg) bt Kei Nishikori (Jpn) 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4); Julien Benneteau (Fra) bt David Ferrer (Spa) 6-4, 6-1;
Doubles: Alexander Peya (Aut)-Bruno Soares (Bra) bt Daniele Bracciali (Ita)-Marcelo Melo (Bra) 7-6 (10-8), 6-1. -

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Ferrer made to sweat

SPANIARD David Ferrer overcame a first set wobble to advance to the semi-finals of the ATP Malaysia Open along with second seed Argentine Juan Monaco, Japanese Kei Nishikori and Frenchman Julien Benneteau in Stadium Putra in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

Ferrer extended his winning streak over Igor Sijsling to three matches but the big-hitting Dutchman made life difficult for the World No 5, who needed to work hard for the 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Sijsling, the World No 97, making only his second quarter-final appearance on the tour this season, shook-off Ferrer in the first game and successfully held serve to win the first set.

But the high-intensity first set affected Sijsling as his knee was briefly treated without calling a time-out.

Ferrer, who is having his best season with five titles to his name, battled back with two break points for the second set.

It was a real battle in the deciding set as both players relied on power play but the experienced Ferrer did enough to sustain the rallies and won it in style by saving four break points in the final game in 124 minutes.

"I just tried to play consistently and maintained a high first serve percentage. I am feeling more tired with the season almost ending," said Ferrer yesterday.

The 30-year-old plays Frenchman Julien Benneteau, the seventh seed, who thrashed Colombian Alejandro Falla 6-2, 6-2 in his quarter-final match.

"Benneteau is very good on hard court and I will try my best but of course I need to get a good rest," Ferrer added.

Benneteau said: "I have played against Ferrer seven times and won some. We are of the same age and we know each other's game."

Friendship, meanwhile, will take the backseat when Monaco and Nishikori face-off in the semi-final today.

Monaco, the World No 11, and Nishikori, the third seed, hang-out a lot as the latter's coach, Dante Bottini is Argentinean. They often practice together and also share the same friends on the tour.

Monaco ended first-time tour quarter-finalist Vasek Pospisil's challenge as he reached his sixth semi-final of the season with a 6-3, 6-4 win over the Canadian.

As for Nishikori, the World No 17, was leading 6-4 when Russian Nikolay Davydenko was forced to withdraw with an adductor strain.

"We've been practicing a lot because we are playing doubles together in Tokyo next week. Sometimes it's tough to play friends," said Nishikori yesterday.

"He's been playing well this year, reached the top-10, but I have nothing to lose and will try to play like today (yesterday). I want to go right to the final and win the tournament."

Monaco, a clay-court specialist, had minimal practice on hard court before arriving in Kuala Lumpur but the 28-year-old has done well by winning only his second indoor match of the season.

"It will be a difficult match tomorrow (today) as Nishikori is a strong baseline player. I need to be prepared for the worst," said Monaco.

Results -- Singles quarter-finals: Juan Monaco (Arg) bt Vasek Pospisil (Can) 6-3, 6-4; Kei Nishikori (Jpn) bt Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) 6-4, 0-0 rtd; Julien Benneteau (Fra) bt Alejandro Falla (Col) 6-2, 6-2, David Ferrer (Esp) bt Igor Sijsling (Ned) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles semi-finals: Colin Fleming-Ross Hutchins (GBR) bt Marius Fyrstenberg-Marcin Matkowski (Pol) 6-3, 7-6 (7-3)

Ferrer, Monaco in q-finals

SPANIARD David Ferrer and Argentine Juan Monaco, the top two seeds, cruised into the quarter-finals of the ATP Malaysian Open but fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov exited the tournament at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

Ferrer, the World No 5, survived a difficult first set to notch a 6-4, 6-2 win over Russian Alex Bogomolov in his first match in nearly two weeks while Monaco, the World No 11, notched his first win of the season in an indoor event by edging unseeded Taiwanese Jimmy Wang 6-4, 7-5 in 108 minutes.

"It is a good outing on my return since the Davis Cup about two weeks ago. It was a difficult first set but I managed to subdue my opponent before taking the second easily," said Ferrer, a semi-finalist at the US Open.

Ferrer plays Dutchman Igor Sijsling, who recorded only his sixth win of the season by ousting fifth seed Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (7-0), 7-6 (7-2) in a second round match.

"I played him a few times, the last time it was tough in the second round of the US Open, which I won in three sets. He has a big serve," Ferrer added.

Monaco was broken three times by Jimmy, but responded with five breaks to set-up a quarter-final meeting against Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

"It's my first win in an indoor tournament and I am happy the way I won the match. I believe I will get better tomorrow (today)," said Monaco, who won three tour titles this season.

"I played Pospisil in Toronto earlier this year and it turned out to be a tough match. Pospisil will definitely be inspired to make an impression in his first ever appearance in the quarter-finals."

Third seed Kei Nishikori, the World No 17 and semi-finalist last year, battled past Spaniard Albert Ramos 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-1 in just over two hours.

"I was a little nervous as it was my first match here. My opponent played really well and at times, I felt, he would win but I managed to break his momentum by playing aggressive from the second set onwards," said Nishikori.

The World No 17, plays Russia's former World No 3 Nikolay Davydenko, who reached his second tour quarter-final in a row when he edged Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin 7-5, 6-4.

Colombian Alejandro Falla battled past an error-prone Dologpolov 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 with the World No 61 converting four of his seven break point chances, avenging the straight sets defeat he suffered to the Ukrainian World No 20 in Brisbane.

"I did not play well.... hit a lot of bad shots. Not too happy, of course. I did well to win the second set but Falla regained his touch and earned an early break in the third to win the match," said Dolgopolov.

The unseeded Falla takes on Frenchman Julien Benneteau for a spot in the semi-finals today.

Finally a champion

Finally my first tennis title. I defeated NTV 7's Adriana Aris 7-3 in the final of the ATP Malaysian Open media tournament.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ferrer, Monaco have much in common

Juan Monaco (left) and David Ferrer

IF David Ferrer and Juan Monaco, the two top seeds at the ongoing ATP Malaysian Open, look at each other's reflection in a mirror, the Spaniard and Argentine would realise their uncanny similar passion for tennis and hobbies.
Ferrer, the World No 5, is enjoying his best season on the tour following wins in Auckland, Buenos Aires, Acapulco, Hertogenbosch and Bastad besides leading Spain to the Davis Cup final, and the top seed hopes to record his first indoor win and 17th career title in Kuala Lumpur.

As for Monaco, the World No 12 and second seed, who is also enjoying a defining season after victories in Vina del Mar, Houston and Hamburg, also wants to notch his maiden career indoor title.

Ferrer, ranked second in Spain after World No 3 Rafael Nadal, and Monaco want to make an impression on forthcoming tournaments to strengthen their hopes of qualifying for November's World Tour Finals in London. Only the top eight ranked players qualify for London and with only a few tournaments left on tour, they will need to do well in all of them.

Ferrer, however, looks likely to qualify for his fourth World Tour appearance while Monaco, bidding for his first qualification, needs to work harder as he is currently ranked outside the top-10.

As for hobbies, Ferrer and Monaco share similar passion for football and Playstation games, with the latter also having a love for food.

Ferrer admitted that he is a little tired after tough matches in the US Open and Davis Cup.

"I had only one week to relax. I've not been practising too much. Anyway, the next three weeks are crucial starting here followed by Beijing and then Shanghai," said Ferrer during the round table interview yesterday.

Despite turning 30 in April, Ferrer is having his best ever season but the player was not keen to reveal too much about his fitness regime.

"I don't really know the secret but I think it is very important for one to maintain a good physique and stay happy.

"You need to have time to relax with your family and friends. Cycling and playing soccer are some of the things I do to keep fit," said Ferrer, who reached his career high ranking of World No 4 in 2008.

Ferrer, who is an ardent fan of Spanish Primera Liga side Valencia and watches them play whenever he can, singled out Roger Federer, with 17 grand slams to his name, as the best player at the moment but noted that his best friend, Nadal, would eventually rule the sport due to the age factor.

"We also have many young exciting players on the tour like Bernard Tomic and Ryan Harrison . They, however, have to work hard but more importantly must remain injury-free," Ferrer added.

Ferrer, who received a first-round bye, will play either Russian Alex Bogomolov or Briton Dominic Inglot in the second round tomorrow.

Monaco, meanwhile, is eager to make an impression in KL ahead of four tournaments. His priority is to qualify for the World Tour Finals.

"It was a long flight but I managed to get nine hours of sleep here. I am already feeling at home. KL is a nice place and I am looking forward to try the food here but I need to be careful with my diet especially with the local fruits.

"It's my first time in Malaysia and I am looking to winning my first indoor title," said Monaco, 28, who turned professional in 2002.

Monaco, who was born in Tandil, Argentina and nicknamed "Pico" since he was a child, picked up tennis after watching Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Mariano Zabaleta play.

"My game mirrors their style of play. Zabaleta was a big name in Argentina and Tandil, he is the reason I took up this sport," said Monaco.

On who gave him the nickname, Monaco said his father, Hector, a businessman was also known as "Pico". "I was known as "Picotin" as a child but over the years, people started calling me Pico," he said.

Monaco, an avid footballer who supports Argentina side Estudiantes de La Plata, hopes tennis will become a No 1 sport in his country. "Tennis is growing and is the second most popular sport after football. In the past, children only played football in Argentina but of late, some are showing interest in tennis due to our success in tournaments.

"I have to admit I started out playing football. I still play a lot and I am also friends of Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi," he said.

Monaco, who received a first-round bye, will open against Jimmy Wang tomorrow and the Argentine believes it will be a tough match.

Busy Ferrer aims to continue hot streak in KL

KUALA LUMPUR: Top seed David Ferrer is undoubtedly having his busiest – and best – season ever.
Ferrer (pic) has played a whopping 72 matches this year, winning five ATP Tour titles as well as reaching the semi-finals of the French Open and US Open and the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
The icing on the cake will have to be Ferrer’s heroics in helping Spain qualify for their second consecutive – and ninth overall – Davis Cup final two weeks ago.
 The Spaniards will face the Czech Republic in the final in November.
“Yeah, this has been my best season ever. I’m playing some of my best tennis this year. It was important to me and to my country and it really feels good to have helped Spain reach the final again” Ferrer told a press conference in KL yesterday. “I think we have a really good chance of winning (the Davis Cup final), but the Czechs have good players in (Tomas) Berdych and (Radek) Stepanek.”
Ferrer will be playing in his third Malaysian Open but the Valencia native is coy about his chances.
“It’s really great to be back here. I never like to focus on the final. I like to take it one match at a time. I’ll try to do my best but the players who are here are really good and it will be difficult to beat them,” he said. Arguably one of the best returner in the game, Ferrer enjoys cycling and football when he’s not spending hours at the gym or tennis courts.
The 30-year-old looks to be in great shape when others his age, like Andy Roddick, have chosen to retire. And Ferrer attributes his longevity to fitness and a little bit of luck. “Tennis is very challenging. It’s important to have good physical conditioning. I am very fortunate that I’ve never suffered any serious injuries,” he said.
The world No. 5, who received a first round bye, will meet either Dominic Inglot or Alex Bogomolov Jr in the second round of the Malaysian Open ATP 250 tennis championship tomorrow.

Benneteau on right track

UNDERACHIEVING Frenchman Julien Benneteau showed the pedigree that could just make the ATP Malaysian Open a  memorable outing for the seventh seed this year.

Benneteau, 30, who has yet to win a title despite reaching six tour finals in his career to date, dug deep to overcome a determined Argentine Carlos Berlocq 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 in their first round encounter at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

An epic first set saw the duo exchange breaks on four occasions en route to a tie-breaker which Benneteau, ranked World No 34, was quick to stamp his mark on, racing off to a 4-1 lead before closing out the set.

Benneteau, who reached the third round of all four grand slams and reached a career-high ranking of World No 26 earlier this year, was, however, in a different class in the second set.

An early break in the second game of the set gave the 1.85m Frenchman the upper hand and subsequently went on to clinch the match after Berlocq double-faulted under pressure on match point.

The Olympic doubles bronze medallist, widely seen as one of the most gifted players on the tour who has yet to win a title, is however, not going to burden himself with the expectations of changing that in Kuala Lumpur.

"I knew Carlos would be a very tough opponent and my goal was to be aggressive and get through this match today (yesterday)," said Benneteau, who will next play Australia's Matthew Ebden.

"I made more mistakes on my serve in the first set but I played a very good tie-break and that changed the game for me as it allowed me to be more confident," added Benneteau.

"I feel the hard work and experience from the years of playing are paying off for me now. I am just going to keep trying to be better and not think too much about it (not having won a title).

"I hope to continue doing well in my next match against Matthew (Ebden). He has beaten me before and will be tough."

Meanwhile, home favourite Si Yew Ming, partnering Taiwan's Jimmy Wang, failed to progress in the doubles when they were outclassed by third seeds Alexander Peya of Austria and Brazilian Bruno Soares 6-2, 6-2 in the first round yesterday.

"Overall, I feel we did not do that badly but were a little unlucky on some of the important points," said Yew Ming.

"We might have done better if we had more time to train together and work on our communication."

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dolgopolov mahu kekalkan momentum Terbuka AS

Bintang tenis dunia, (dari kiri) Alejandro Falla, Ross Hutchins dan Alexandr Dolgopolov mengacau doh biskut sambil dibantu seorang chef pada program amal 'Baked with Care' di sebuah hotel di Kuala Lumpur, semalam.

KUALA LUMPUR - Berjaya mara sehingga ke pusingan ketiga Terbuka Amerika Syarikat 2012 bakal menjadi penguat semangat buat pemain tenis Ukraine, Alexandr Dolgopolov pada Terbuka Malaysia 2012 yang sudah bermula semalam.

Pemain yang menduduki ranking ke-19 dunia itu mengakui dia masih segar dengan pencapaiannya di Terbuka Amerika Syarikat apabila mara sehingga ke pusingan ketiga sebelum tewas kepada Stanislas Wawrinka dari Switzerland.

"Saya rasa berada dalam keadaan baik apabila tiba di Malaysia. Apa yang saya fikirkan sebaik sahaja berada di sini hanyalah untuk memberikan permainan tenis terbaik," katanya kepada media di sini semalam.

Dolgopolov, 23, merupakan pilihan keempat kejohanan dan tidak perlu untuk berhempas pula pada pusingan pertama selepas mendapat bye seterusnya menanti di antara pemenang Alejandro Falla (Colombia) dan Rajeev Ram (Amerika Syarikat).

"Saya datang ke sini dalam keadaan yang masih segar selepas beraksi di Terbuka Amerika Syarikat. Saya sempat berehat seminggu dan berlatih untuk beraksi di Malaysia, saya rasa mempunyai rehat yang cukup.

"Apa yang penting sekarang adalah saya perlu bersedia dan menunggu siapa yang bakal melayakkan diri ke pusingan kedua, perlawanan pusingan pertama memang sukar," kata pemain yang berasal dari Kiev, Ukraine.

Sementara itu, pemain pada ranking ke-35 dunia, Ross Hutchins berkata, dia sudah bersedia untuk menghiburkan peminat dengan permainan menarik walaupun dia hanya akan beraksi dalam acara beregu bersama pasangannya Colin

Ariez Elyaas raih pengalaman berharga

Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam membalas pukulan pemain Belanda, Igor Sijsling pada pusingan pertama Tenis Terbuka Malaysia semalam. - UTUSAN/Ghazali Basri

KUALA LUMPUR - Pengalaman pemain tenis muda negara, Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam beraksi pada peringkat tertinggi kariernya pada Terbuka Malaysia ATP semalam, bertahan hanya 50 minit apabila dia kecundang mudah 2-6, 1-6 kepada pemain Belanda, Igor Sijsling pada pusingan pertama.

Ariez, 18, mengerah segala yang terdaya untuk memberi cabaran kepada lawannya namun hakikatnya perbezaan taraf antara kedua-dua mereka cukup jelas memihak Sijsling, yang merupakan pemain No. 97 dunia.

Ariez bermula cemerlang mendahului 2-1, dengan mata kedua diperolehi dengan mematahkan servis Sijsling. Namun langkahnya terhenti setakat itu apabila lawannya, yang pernah memenangi lima kejuaraan bertaraf 'Challenger' (setahap rendah di bawah Jelajah Dunia ATP), mula mendapat rentak lalu mudah melengkap kemenangan set pertama 6-2.

Harapan penyokong tuan rumah yang berkunjung ke Stadium Putra, Bukit Jalil melihat Ariez bangkit dengan aksi yang lebih bertenaga untuk sekurang-kurangnya memberi cabaran sengit kepada Sijsling tidak menjadi kenyataan, sebaliknya ia berlangsung penuh berat sebelah. Ariez menyerah dengan kiraan 1-6.

"Saya bermula dengan yakin, lawan sedikit gemuruh tetapi lama kelamaan dia mula memukul dengan lebih bertenaga, lebih tajam dan saya gagal menyainginya.

"Saya rasa saya tidaklah bermain dengan buruk, malah saya fikir prestasi saya meningkat berbanding tahun lalu. Saya juga tidak lagi berasa gementar seperti dulu.

"Banyak pengalaman berharga saya timba walaupun singkat. Saya sedar untuk mahu mengejutkan pemain ranking lebih tinggi bukanlah sesuatu mustahil, cuba lebih banyak masa diperlukan untuk mengurangkan jurangnya ," kata Ariez, kini menduduki ranking 1,557, yang membuat penampilan ketiga pada kejohanan ini.

Ini kali pertama Ariez mengecapi aksi di pusingan sebenar selepas bertuah dipilih untuk bertanding atas tiket wildcard, menggantikan kekosongan yang ditinggalkan pemain Amerika Syarikat, Brian Baker yang diberi pengecualian khas oleh penganjur.

Dengan tewasnya Ariez, cabaran negara dalam perseorangan telah pun berakhir selepas empat lagi rakan sepasukan Si Yew Ming, Assri Merzuki, Ahmed Deedat Abd. Razak dan Syed Agil Syed Naguib pada aksi kelayakan Sabtu lalu.

Cabaran pemain negara bagaimanapun belum berakhir kerana pemain No.1 kebangsaan, Yew Ming akan turun dalam acara beregu, berpasangan dengan Jimmy Wang dari Taiwan, menentang pilihan ketiga Alexander Peya dan Bruno Soares (Austria-Brazil) hari ini.

Assri dan Syed Agil juga diberi tiket wildcard untuk beregu, dan mereka dijangka bukan tandingan pilihan utama dari Poland, Mariusz Frysternberg-Marcin Matkowski yang merupakan gandingan No.21 dunia.

Sementara itu, kejutan pertama berlaku pada hari pertama semalam menyaksikan tersingkirnya pilihan kelapan, Juergen Melzer kepada Vasek Pospisil dari Kanada 4-6, 0-2 selepas jaguh Austria itu menarik diri pada pertengahan set kedua kerana kecederaan

Flawless start

Canada’s Vasek Pospisil is targeting to get back into the top-100. Pic by Goh Thean Howe

VASEK Pospisil could not have asked for a better start in the ATP Malaysian Open but the Canadian was unhappy with the way he recorded his second biggest win of the season over a higher-ranked player at Putra Stadium in Bukit Kiara yesterday.
 Pospisil, the World No 125, met Austria's World 33 Jurgen Melzer and eighth seed for the first time on the tour, and was looking forward for a good first round match.

The 22-year-old, who resides in Vernon, was flawless in the first set, winning 6-4 before taking a 2-0 lead in the second.

However, Melzer could not continue and retired from the match due to a left thigh injury to hand Pospisil his second biggest win of the season since overcoming Italy's World No 26 Andreas Seppi, two month ago, in Valencia.

"I do not like winning it this way. I came into this match with confidence after a good practice and I would have beaten him in two sets," said Pospisil yesterday.

"I've beaten higher-ranked players before but I do not do it consistently. I need to do it more often to become a top player."

Pospisil, who started playing at the age of five, reached a career high ranking of 85 in July but has since dropped out of the top-100.

"My target until the end of the year is to get back into the top-100 and take it from there for next season. I need to continue training hard and also gain good results," said Pospisil, who made his Davis Cup debut four years ago.

Pospisil will play American Michael Yani, who beat fellow countryman Brian Baker 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), in the second round.

It was the end of the road for Malaysia's challenge in the singles after Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam, a wild card, crashed out to World 97 Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands in a straightforward 6-2, 6-1 defeat.

Despite carrying a wrist injury, Ariez, 19, started well and held serve in the opening game before the Dutchman asserted his authority.

Sijsling went on to break Ariez six times en route to setting up a likely second-round encounter with fifth seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who plays Slovakia's Lacko Lukas in the first round today.

"I was quite confident going into the match today (yesterday) and managed to play well for the first few games as he (Sijsling) seemed a bit nervous.

"He, however, used his experience to come back into the match, especially on the important points and managed to control the game from then on," said Ariez.

Results -- Singles 1st rd: Igor Sijsling (Ned) bt Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam (Mas) 6-2, 6-1; Jimmy Wang (Tai) bt Riccardo Ghedin (Ita) 6-3, 6-3; Vasek Pospisil (Can) bt Jurgen Melzer (Aut) 6-4, 2-0 rtd; Michael Yani (US) bt Brian Baker (US) 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).

Today's schedule -- Singles 1st rd: Julian Knowle (Aut) v Albert Ramos (Spa), Carlos Berlocq (Arg) v Julien Benneteau (Fra), Matthew Ebden (Aus) v Philip Davydenko (Rus).

Doubles 1st rd: Nikolay Davydenko (Rus)-Dick Norman (Bel) v Mikhail Elgin (Rus)-Denis Istomin (Uzb); Alejandro Falla (Col)-Igor Sijsling (Neg) v Coling Fleming-Ross Hutchins (Bri); Brian Baker-Rajeev Ram (Us) v Daniele Bracciali (Ita)-Marcelo Melo (Bra); Si Yew Ming (Mas)-Jimmy wang (Tai) v Alexander Peya (Aut)-Bruno Soares (Bra); Jurgen Melzer (Aut)-Juan Monaco (Arg) v James Cerretani (US)-Matthew Ebden (Aus).

* Matches start at 2pm.

Jimmy in the dark over partner Yew Ming

TAIWAN'S Jimmy Wang believes his scratch partnership with Malaysian Si Yew Ming will need some work if they are to progress past the first round of the ATP Malaysian Open at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil today.

 The 27-year-old wild card, who yesterday eased past Italy's Riccardo Ghedin  6-3, 6-3  in the first round,  said he had no idea of what to expect from his partnership with the left-handed Malaysian.

   The duo play  third-seeded  Austrian pair Alexander Peya and Brazillian Bruno Soares today.

   "I have never played with him before. I saw him for a while today (yesterday) then he disappeared again, but thank you for reminding me (about doubles)," jested Jimmy, who reached the second-round of the US Open last month.   "I think working on our communication will be important in the time we have (together), especially in regard to who will return from which side."

Monday, 24 September 2012

Speed demon Dolgopolov

OFF COURT: World No 20 gets his kicks from racing cars
Alexandr Dolgopolov
ALEXANDR Dolgopolov is a man of many talents and he will gear up for his first match on the ATP Malaysian Open after learning about the death of his race car driver friend yesterday.
The Ukrainian's unorthodox game has attracted massive following but tennis is not the only thing he is good at.
Dolgopolov is also a thrill-seeker who seeks the adrenaline rush of drag and other car races. The 24-year-old has been competing in championship racing for the last four years.
When asked about his passion for car racing, Dolgopolov was emotional with his answer.
"I like racing but today (yesterday) is not a good day to talk about it because my friend just died six hours ago. Yes, it is a big hobby but after this, I'm unsure whether to continue racing," Dolgopolov told Timesport yesterday.
"I love cars and I have been going to championships for the last three to four years... I am pretty serious but it's also dangerous."
Besides tennis and car racing, the World No 20 who has a 27-19 win-loss record this season, used to create Internet games.
"I used to design Internet games but that was a long time ago when I used to play computers. I do not have the time now but maybe in the near future, I might re-start this hobby.
"I created browser games, which involved characters for fights to get into the next level. It was mainly to keep office people occupied during their free time," said Dolgopolov, who turned professional in 2006.
Dolgopolov arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday but without his luggage and had to shop for clothes.
However, the minor hiccup will not affect the fourth seed, who received a first round bye, when he starts his campaign in the second round either on Wednesday or Thursday.
He will face the winner of the first round clash between American Rajeev Ram and Colombian Alejandro Falla.
"I have good memories about Kuala Lumpur after first playing here two years ago. I did shopping and also ate a lot.
"As for my target this year, I am playing in my first tournament in three weeks. I have some time off and haven't been practicing too much so I will take it one match at the time.
"I believe I have a good chance as I'm seeded here," said Dolgopolov, who made his first title breakthrough in Umag last year.
Commenting on his unorthodox but all-court playing style, he said his father, former professional Oleksandr Dolgopolov helped him develop his unique game.
"I lived on the tour at a very young age with my parents, travelling frequently and practising with top players but it was my dad, who taught me every shot and also ways to make a perfect game.
"That is why I can pretty much play any shot on court. It is fun when you can try different stuff and enjoy the game," said Dolgopolov, who started this season by reaching the final in Brisbane before winning in Washington.
Dolgopolov's mother, Elena, was a gymnast, who won medals in the European Championships but he was not interested in following her footsteps.
"I picked up tennis after watching my father coach others and naturally, I liked it straight away so I did not think about picking up other sports," said the Kiev-born, who reached a career-high ranking of 13 in January..
On his future goals, Dolgopolov hopes to make the top-10 next year. "My initial plan was to finish in the top-10 this season but it's not going to happen as there are not many events left. But I will try to finish the year with a good ranking to get ready for the new season." -

Another East European show on the cards

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Open ATP 250 championship has always produced an Eastern European winner since its inception in 2009 and this year could be the same with Slovakian Martin Klizan likely to keep up the trend.

The first two years of the tournament saw Russians ruling the roost with first Nikolay Davydenko then Mikhail Youzhny lifting the title.

Last year, another Eastern European, Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, beat Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus for the title.

For this year’s edition, world No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain is the top seed but the 23-year-old Klizan could upset the form book.

The left-handed Bratislava native was outside the top 100 until last September when he reached No. 86 in the rankings.

This year, Klizan made heads turn with a stunning performance in last month’s US Open where he defeated world No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round.

After that, he made a fine run to the fourth round, before losing to Croatia’s Marin Cilic.

With the Eastern Europeans finding Malaysia a favourable hunting ground, Klizan, who beat Italy’s Fabio Fognini to win the St. Petersberg Open title in Russia yesterday, could very well serve up a few stunners at the Putra Stadium.

“Klizan is a very good player who has had a fantastic year and he could be the darkhorse in the Malaysian Open,” said tournament director Nick Freyer.

But the highly-rated Slovakian will have to get past Davydenko first. A win should see him face either sixth seed Pablo Andujar of Spain or Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin with a potential quarter-final clash against third seed Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Today’s first round will see national No. 1 Ariez Elyaas take on Dutch player Igor Sijsling.

Also in action will be Taiwan wildcard Jimmy Wang, eighth seed Jurgen Melzer of Austria and comeback kid Brian Baker of USA.


QUALIFYING FINALS: Dominic Inglot (Gbr) bt Austin Karosi (US) 6-2, 6-2; Julian Knowle (Aut) bt Toshihide Matsui (Jpn) 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Michael Yani (US) bt Sanam Singh (Ind) 6-4, 7-6; Riccardo Ghedin (Ita) bt Treat Conrad Huey (Phi) 4-6, 6-4, 7-6.

Assri is a star in the making

MALAYSIA'S current crop of tennis players could end the nation's wait for a genuine star in the sport.

Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam, Syed Agil Syed Naguib and Ahmad Deedat Abd Razak are among Malaysia's top juniors but the one who could make it far is the big-hitting Assri Merzuki.
Assri, who turns 18 in December, earned admirers when he played his first ever tour event in the singles first round qualifiers of the ATP Malaysian Open in Bukit Jalil on Saturday.
He displayed great skills and fighting spirit before losing 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to doubles specialist Treat Conrad Huey of the Philippines.
The Kuching-born, a member of the national Davis Cup team, however, is better in doubles and proved it by winning a Futures event with Romanian Gabriel Moraru in Indian Harbour Beach last year, making him one of the few Malaysians to have won an international event in recent years.
"I was excited about my singles match as it was my first ever appearance in a tour event. I did well by winning a set to level the match against Huey. It has given me the confidence," said Assri, who is based in Florida.
Assri, sponsored by the Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association, will renew his partnership with Syed Aqil to play former champions Mariusz Fyrstenberg-Marcin Matkowski of Poland in the doubles first round tomorrow.
"Syed Agil and I have won many local junior tournaments but we have not played together since I left for Florida two years ago. We are good friends and I am really looking forward to renew my partnership with him.
"We have been practising hard together for this match and I also do not think we will have any problems in terms of on-court understanding.
"It will be tough playing the former champions but we will try our best to give them a good fight," said Assri.
Results: Qualifying (2nd rd) - Julian Knowles (Aut) bt Toshihide Matsui (Jpn) 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Michael Yani (US) bt Sanam Singh (Ind) 6-4, 7-6 (7-4); Dominic Inglot (Bri) bt Austin Karosi (US) 6-2, 6-2; Riccardo Ghedin (Ita) bt Treat Conrad Huey (Phi) 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8)
1st round: Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam (Mas) v Igor Sijsling (Ned), Qualifier v Jimmy Wang (Tai), Jurgen Melzer (Aut) v Vasek Pospisil (Can), Qualifier v Brian Baker (US). -

Assri looking forward to playing in doubles with Agil

KUALA LUMPUR: After an eye opening experience competing in the singles qualifying of the Malaysian Open ATP 250 championship, promising teenager Mohd Assri Merzuki is now looking forward to the doubles which begins tomorrow.

The 17-year-old Assri became only the second Malaysian after veteran Si Yew Ming to win a set in the tournament’s history when he took on Philippines’ Treat Conrad Huey on Saturday.

But his inexperience showed as he eventually lost 2-6, 7-5, 2-6.

Assri, who has trained at the Tennis Players Fitness Institute in Florida under Romanian coach Doru Murariu for the past two years, believes he is better in the doubles.

In fact, the stocky Sarawakian has already made heads turn in the ITF Junior circuits by emerging a winneer in Brunei and Trinidad & Tobago, with his Canadian partner William Tutecky.

Assri also won an ITF Futures event – the Indian Harbour Beach tournament – last June together with Romanian Gabriel Moraru. They beat Antoinne Benneteau-Artem Ilyushin in the final.

However, he will have a bigger challenge, when he partners fellow youngster Syed Agil Naguib for the main draw of the doubles in KL.

They face top seeds and former champions Mariusz Fyrstenberg-Marcin Matkowski of Poland in the first round.

“I’m definitely more comfortable with doubles although I’ve been playing more singles lately,” said Assri.

“It’s definitely tough getting the top seeds in the first round.

“We will give our best. I have been partnering Syed Agil for several years and we should not have any problems playing together.. “Most importantly, this is a good opportunity for us to gain some experience and since we’re the underdogs, we’ll just go out and enjoy our tennis,” added Assri.

Ferrer seeks KL high

AFTER back-to-back highs in the US Open and Davis Cup, World No 5 David Ferrer returns to court after a week-long break at the ATP Malaysian Open at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
The 30-year-old, after having won in Bastad, Hertogenbosch, Acapulco, Buenos Aires and Auckland before reaching the US Open semi-finals and then helping Spain make the Davis Cup final, is aiming to nail his first indoor title of the season in his third attempt in Kuala Lumpur.
Ferrer, the top seed who received a first round bye, will arrive tomorrow and is expected to start his campaign on Thursday against either Russia's Alex Bogomolov Jnr or a qualifier.
If he wins, he will likely meet teammate Feliciano Lopez before a potential semi-final against Ukraine's fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. Argentina's Juan Monaco and Japan's Kei Nishikori are the second and third seeds, respectively.
Five main draw players -- German Tommy Haas (World No 19), American Sam Querry (21), Italian Andreas Seppi (26), Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis (40) and Colombian Santiago Giraldo (46) -- withdrew from the tournament for various reasons.
Baghdatis just got married to former Croatian international Karoline Sprem while the rest are injured.
Tournament director Nick Freyer said their absence will not affect the Malaysian Open's prestige.
"It is normal in tennis to lose a few players from a tournament. We, however, still have the top four seeds and also other marquee players," said Freyer yesterday.
"Ferrer shouldn't be here after two tough tournaments but like a true professional, he kept his word and will arrive here soon. I believe if he plays to his form, he will win his first indoor title.
"Other contenders are Monaco, Nishikori, Dolgopolov, Lopez while Slovakia's Martin Klizan could surprise."
Nishikori, the World No 24, said he hopes to go one better than last year's semi-final appearance.
"There are good players here and I have a tough draw. I've been playing well of late and hopefully, I can maintain my form here," said Nishikori, whose only tour win was at Delray Beach in 2008.
The Asian No 1, who received a first round bye, plays either a qualifier or Spaniard Albert Ramos in the second round and if the Florida-based right-hander safely negotiates the remaining rounds, he will face Monaco in the semi-finals.

Yew Ming's brief moment of glory

Si Yew Ming became the first Malaysian to win at the ATP Malaysian Open after beating Colin Wong 6-3, 6-1 in the first round qualifiers yesterday. Pic by Goh Thean Howe
SI YEW MING created history by becoming the first local to win a match in the ATP Malaysian Open, which began in 2009.
Yew Ming, a former national No 1, defeated national junior Colin Wong 6-3, 6-1 in the singles first round qualifiers but the 33-year-old was humbled 6-0, 6-1 in the second round by India's Sanam Singh at Putra Stadium on Saturday
Although Yew Ming only defeated a teammate to earn the distinction of being the first local to win in the event, credit must be given to the Kuala Lumpur-born for his efforts.
"I have finally won my first Malaysian Open match after trying so hard for the last three years. It is something to cherish but I wish I had done it against a foreign player," said Yew Ming.
"However, I failed to reproduce my form in the second round as I couldn't match Sanam's baseline game. I tried to play a serve-and-volley game but it did not work."
Compatriots Assri Merzuki, Ahmad Deedat Abdul Razak and Syed Agil Syed Naguib lost their respective first round matches.
Yew Ming, however, will be back on court for doubles play with Taiwan's Jimmy Wang tomorrow. Assri-Syed Aqil have also earned a doubles main draw wildcard.
The tournament continues today with the final round of the qualifiers.
RESULTS (Malaysians unless stated) -- Qualifying, 1st rd: Treat Conrad Huey (Phi) bt Assri Merzuki 6-2, 5-7, 6-2; Si Yew Ming bt Colin Wong 6-3, 6-1; Dominic Inglot (Bri) bt Ahmad Deedat Abd Razak 6-1, 6-4; 2nd rd: Michael Yani (US) by Syed Agil Syed Naguib 7-5, 6-1; Riccardo Ghedin (Ita) bt Alexander Peya (Aut) 6-2, 6-4; Julian Knowle 9Aut) bt Christopher Rungkat (Ina) 6-3, 6-2; Toshihide Matsui (Jpn) bt Bruno Soares (Bra) 7-6 (7-5), 3-4 rtd; Dominic Inglot (Bri) bt Nick Lindahl (Aus) 6-3, 6-4, Sanam Singh (Ind) by Si Yew Ming 6-0, 6-1; Treat Conrad Huey (Phi) bt Woong Sun Jun (Kor) 6-3, 7-6 (7-3).

Big names to grace KL

DESPITE the absence of a title sponsor for the ATP Malaysian Open for the second year running, the tournament, which starts today with the qualifiers, will still see some of the world's best tennis players competing in Kuala Lumpur.

Spain's World No 5 David Ferrer, Argentina's Juan Monaco, Kei Nishikori of Japan and Russia's former champion Nikolay Davydenko (picture) are among the confirmed entries. On the local front, national No 1 Ariez Elyaas Deen Heshaam was wearing a big smile yesterday after being told he will play in the men's singles main draw.

The 19-year-old was initially entered as a wild card for the qualifying competition but his fortunes changed after Brian Baker of the United States was upgraded as a ranked player.

Ariez will now have the distinction of being only the second player after Si Yew Ming in 2010 to play in the singles main draw. The first round starts on Monday at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil.

Ariez hopes to do better in his third appearance at the Malaysian Open. "I did not expect this ... I will, however, make use of it to gauge myself against higher ranked opponents. I need to be positive and optimistic ahead of my first round match," said Ariez.

Ariez said the experience in the previous editions has made him a better player. "I need to continue learning to improve. I give myself another four or five years to make a grade in the sport," he added.

Yew Ming, Ahmad Deedat Abd Razak and debutants Syed Agil Syed Naguib and Assri Merzuki are the other Malaysians in the singles qualifying round which starts today. Yew Ming will partner Taiwan's World No 344 Jimmy Wang in the doubles main draw.

With this being his fourth appearance, Yew Ming's ability to apply what he has learnt from his past experiences in the tournament will be the key as he strives for that elusive first win at tour level.

As for Assri, the Florida-based player who won an ITF Futures doubles title last year, wants to learn from the best.

On the issue of a title sponsor, the tournament, which had Proton as the main sponsor in 2009 and 2010, will be without one for the second straight year.

With the tournament's five-year deal with ATP ending next year, the lack of interest from sponsors will definitely affect the future of the event.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Haas set to add his 'good name' to tourney

TOMMY Haas is likely to make his ATP Malaysian Open debut as one of three main draw wild card entries for the event on Sept 22-30 in Bukit Jalil.
Although tournament director Nick Freyer did not reveal any names in a recent interview, he did, however, hint about the player close to taking up the offer.
Freyer said a "good name" is likely to get one of the remaining two wild cards, the first of which went to American Bryan Baker.
"In tennis there are two big (comeback) stories this year. One is Bryan Baker and the other is this guy," said Freyer recently.
"He is one of the older players on the tour and has beaten Roger Federer this year. I would rather not give any name at the moment out of respect to him."
Although, Haas, who has surged back into the top 25 of the world rankings at age 34, is not only player to beat Federer this season, the German is, however, the oldest player to have done so.
Federer has also suffered rare defeats to non-top five players this year. The World No 1 lost to Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Doha and American John Isner in the Davis Cup.
Freyer is expected to announce the wild card list later this week.
In mid last year, Haas held the ranking of 896 but improved to 205 at the beginning of this season.
The World No 21 made a great comeback by winning in Halle, where he defeated Federer, who was then World No 3, and reached the finals in Hamburg and Washington.
Haas, who began his professional career on the tour in 1996, broke into the top 100 in 1997 before reaching a career-high singles ranking of World No 2 in May 2002.
His career, however, was plagued by injuries. The German missed the 2003 season and did not return to the top 10 until 2007.
He also missed over a year's tennis between February 2010 and June 2011, but has since returned to play on the tour.
Coached by Christian Groh and married to actress Sarah Foster, the right-handed player who resides in Florida, was hoping to make an impact on the ongoing US Open but bowed out in the first round.
Among the confirmed players for the Malaysian Open are Spaniard David Ferrer, the top seed, Argentina's World No 11 Juan Monaco, Japan's World No 18 Kei Nishikori and last year's finalist Marco Bagdhatis of Cyprus.
The draw for the 32 singles event will consist of 19 players from the direct entry main draw list, three wild cards and four qualifiers. The doubles will comprise only 16 pairs.
Tickets, priced between RM10 and RM100, are available via the tournament's website -- or

Leaks won't affect Malaysian Open

Malaysian Open tournament director Nick Freyer briefing the media at the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Bernama pic

DISRUPTIONS due to water leaks at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil are set to be a thing of the past with the organisers of the Malaysian Open Kuala Lumpur having done modifications to the venue in preparation for the Sept 22-30 event.
Tournament director Nick Freyer said a protective membrane has been applied onto the roof to prevent any such leakages from occurring this year in addition to a number of other minor improvements to the tournament venue.
The problem has plagued the Putra Stadium in recent years, which last year saw authorities covering affected areas in the stadium with plastic tarps to stop rain water dripping into the stadium during the tournament.
"Leaks, which were quite embarrassing for us in the past, should not be a problem for us anymore," said Freyer, during the media briefing at the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
"They (the contractors) have applied a first layer of membrane on top of the roof with no visual effect to the interior of the stadium. This should stop the rain from affecting us anymore.
"They will, however, be adding another layer of membrane just to make sure (it does not recur) as it can deteriorate over time after being exposed to the sun and other elements."
Meanwhile, Freyer hinted that a "good name" is likely to get one of the remaining two wildcards, the first of which went to American Bryan Baker. However, he declined to name the player.
"In tennis there are two big (comeback) stories this year. One is Bryan Baker and the other is this guy," said Freyer.
"He is one of the older players on the tour and has beaten Roger Federer this year. I would rather not give any names at the moment out of respect to him.
"We will officially announce who gets the wildcards after the US Open ends as there is always the possibility of getting an unexpected big name at the end of each grand slam."
Rado, Corona, 100Plus and the DoubleTree by Hilton Kuala Lumpur, Wilson, CNN International and Astro, the official host broadcaster, are the sponsors.-

Putra Stadium roof repaired in time for tourney, says Freyer

KUALA LUMPUR: This year’s ATP 250 Malaysian Open tennis tournament will not be dripping with embarrassment now that the roof at the venue – the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil – has been repaired after three long years.
The stadium management, Malaysian Stadium Corporation, began renovating the stadium six months ago and laid a membrane on the roof to prevent future leaks.
The leaking roof at the indoor Putra Stadium proved to be an embarrassment for tournament director Nick Freyer since the tournament started in 2009 as matches were disrupted whenever it rained.
“What’s interesting is that the contractors have stopped working to allow us to prepare for the tournament ... they will continue with their renovation work in October,” said Freyer.
“The important thing is they’ve got the roof fixed and that’s just great. Besides the roof, the toilets have also been upgraded following complaints by the public.”
Among the stars coming for the Malaysian Open this year are world No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain, Argentine Juan Monaco (No. 11) and Asian ace Kei Nishikori of Japan (No. 18).-

Dashing Nishikori inspired to give better show at Malaysian Open

PETALING JAYA: Kei Nishikori had a rough start to his tennis career, having to leave home at 14 to train at the famed IMG Bollettieri Academy in Florida, USA, under the guidance of Nick Bollettieri and Dante Bottini.
To make matters worse, Nishikori, the son of Kiyoshi and Eri, could not speak a single word of English when he first arrived in the US and struggled just to adapt to his new surroundings.
But his persistence and perseverance soon paid dividends, with Nishikori qualifying for and winning an ITF Futures event in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 2006, as an unranked player. It was his first ever singles title.
Nishikori, now 22, had to wait until 2008 before earning his first breakthrough on the ATP Tour, gaining entrance into the Delray Beach Championship in February that year. Ranked No. 244 in the world, he defeated several higher ranked players, including Florian Mayer, Sam Querrey and top seed James Blake, to become the first Japanese man in nearly 16 years to win an ATP title.
Although that is his only ATP title to date, Nishikori’s star continued to rise, as did his rankings. And last October, he rose to world No. 30 – becoming the highest ranked Japanese man since Shuzo Matsuoka, who reached No. 46 in 1992. This year, Nishikori has already achieved a personal best by reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the first time, beating world No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France along the way.
Nishikori is currently the world No. 18, having made the quarter-finals in the London Olympics and the third round of the US Open last week.
The dashing youngster, well-known for his speed and endurance on court, will be competing in the Malaysian Open ATP 250 at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil from Sept 22-30.
It will be his third straight year competing in Malaysia and the crowd favourite took some time out from his hectic schedule to tell us a little – via e-mail – about his aspirations and hopes about competing here.
Starsport: Nishikori, you’ve been a rising Asian sensation in the world of tennis and you’re still only 22. Can you describe your journey so far?
Nishikori: It has been a very interesting journey so far. I moved to Bollettieri’s when I was just 14 and that was a big sacrifice. I didn’t know anyone there and I really had to learn to grow up in a new culture. In a way, I learned a lot from those days and it has helped me in my travels around the world.
Starsport: Training in the US has certainly improved your game. What else have you learned and improved on? Will fans be seeing a new style from you?
Nishikori: I am not super tall so my game is obviously based on speed and my big forehand. I don’t suppose my style will change but I will gain more experience to become more all-rounded. My serve and net game though, has certainly improved a lot.
Starsport: You’re currently the highest ranked Asian men’s tennis player. Does that put more pressure on you and can you break into the top 10?
Nishikori: There is a lot of attention back in Japan but I don’t really feel the pressure because I just focus on my tennis and continuously seek to improve myself. This is the first year I’ve broken into the top 20, so there’s still a long road ahead.
Starsport: Your best Grand Slam result was making the quarter-finals of the Australian Open this year. Does it represent a step forward in your career?
Nishikori: It was definitely the biggest moment of my career and I think I was the youngest quarter-finalist there so it means that I am on the right track. Having said that, you can’t be satisfied with what you have done and I always want more. I will also try to win a title as I’ve not won any since 2008.
Starsport: In Malaysia, the fans adore you and treat as a local player. How does that make you feel?
Nishikori: It is a very nice feeling indeed because we travel so much and to come to a place where the fans make you feel at home is very nice and makes you want to play better. I’m definitely looking forward to the Malaysian Open because it helped me when I was still low in the rankings and it’s really nice to be back.
Starsport: Besides tennis, what other sports do you follow?
Nishikori: I’m a huge football fan and I follow the Japanese national team a lot.
Starsport: So is it Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
Nishikori: Lionel Messi.
Starsport: What about food? Will you like to try some spicy Malaysian food?
Nishikori: I like a variety of food but my favourite is obviously sushi. But I’m also looking forward to tasting the local cuisines.-

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Optimism abound at Asian U-14 Series tournament

BANKING ON EXPERIENCE: Saeed Afzalirad hopes his experience will guide his players to win the U-14 tournament. From left: Tara Afzalirad, Saeed and Ernest Dagenhart.

KUCHING: Former national tennis coach and trainer Saeed Afzalirad has never stopped his quest to unearth new tennis stars for Malaysia.
Speaking to The Borneo Post yesterday, Saeed commented that he can’t wait for the start of the Eighth edition of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Asian U-14 Series tournament as he sees the competition as a platform to unearth rising stars of tennis.
He was hoping that his current players, Ernest Dagenhart and Tara Afzalirad will do well in the eagerly awaited competition.
“I don’t have a specific target. I haven’t seen any of the other players in this tournament in action so it’s difficult for me to set a target,” replied Saeed when asked on any specific target that he has set for his players.
He continued that participants come into a tournament to win and he expects no less from his players. He thinks that his players stand a realistic chance to win the tournament.
Saeed added that he was full of praise on the efforts made by Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association (SLTA) to organise the tournament.
He continued that the competition is well managed and organised, and is worth his time coming here.
“In Malaysia, I think SLTA organises one of the best tournaments besides Penang.
They are doing a good job and I think we need more organisers like them in the country,” he commented.
Residing in Malaysia for about 20 years now, Saeed commented that he feels very much at home here.
He is optimistic that Malaysia could one day be a tennis powerhouse.
From 1990 to 1998, he was the national junior coach. He would then go on to become the national junior coach for his native Iran.
“I returned to Malaysia in 2000. I now prefer to work independently now as I run a mini tennis academy in Kuala Lumpur,” he added.
Dagenhart, who is originally from Belarus, is qualified to represent Malaysia in the tournament as his father is a permanent resident of the country.
He will be facing his compatriot Hanif Pauzi today in the tournament qualifiers.
13 players will be playing each other in the qualifiers today for a place in the main draw of the Asian U-14 Series.
The qualifiers starts today at the SLTA tennis grounds near Kuching Civic Centre.

Alvin victorious at Kuching Age Group tourney

KUCHING: Alvin Teng clinched the Boys Under-18 singles title in the Kuching Age Group 3rd Leg Tennis Tournament at the Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association (SLTA) centre when he won all six games in the competition based on league system.
The runner-up was Kenneth Tan who won five games and lost one while in third place was Gregory Tan who won four games and lost two.
Finishing in fourth and fifth positions were Ricoh Soh and Isaac Law respectively.
Alvin failed to complete a double victory when he and his partner Kirstin Leong lost 1-9 to Gregory Tan and Mark Leong in the Under-18 mixed doubles final.
Kirstin made up for the disappointment by capturing the Boys/Girls Under-14 singles after defeating Caitlin Lean 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
The losing semi-finalists were Matthew Chong and Jonathan Sia. In the losers’ pool final, Daniel Law beat Tay Chen Kiat 6-2, 6-3.
The duo had earlier beaten Abey Bong and Bong Yi Yeng in the semi-finals. Daniel then partnered Tay to win the Under-14 mixed doubles title, beating Matthew Chong-Zachary Chan 8-5.
Meanwhile, Sean Law and Mitchell Brapui took the Under-12 mixed doubles crown after they defeated Brandon Foo-Ming Rui 8-3 in the final.
The Boys/Girls Under-12 singles title went to Sean Law who beat seven other contestants in the league.
Second was Mitchell while third to fourth was Anjeline Ong, Zoe Lean and Brandon.
The tournament organised by Kuching Division Lawn Tennis Association (KDLTA) was aimed at giving the youngsters the chance to compete at development level and gauge their abilities and skills.
KDLTA president Dato Patrick Liew, who also helms SLTA, gave away the prizes.-

SLTA ready to host Asian U-14 Series

KUCHING: The Sarawak Lawn Tennis Association (SLTA) continues its hardwork in putting Malaysia in the world tennis map with president Dato Patrick Liew announcing yesterday that the highly anticipated Eighth edition of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Asian U-14 Series tournament will commence here from Sept 5 to 9.

According to Liew, the tournament has been and will always be a platform for young and aspiring tennis players to gain useful experience and also improve their world rankings. It will be a very useful exposure for them.

He assures youths who participate in the competition, especially those who came from far, will not go home empty-handed as there will be no knock-out phase in the tournament. All players stood a chance to play equal number of matches and will be ranked accordingly after the competition.

“We (SLTA) were the first to organise an Asian U-14 tennis tournament, sanctioned by the ITF in this country. We were also among the earliest in Asia,” he added.

Liew continued that it is essential for those who aspire to play tennis seriously to start at a very young age. He is especially serious about the development of youth tennis here in the country.

“We can see now that more Asian tennis players are becoming professional tennis players. There is indeed a future for tennis here in this continent,” he said.

Giving out a piece of advice, Liew told The Borneo Post yesterday that local junior tennis players should be grateful that there is an international-class tournament held right here in Sarawak.

They need not travel abroad for exposure or experience.

In another development, Liew also informed that organising a tennis tournament is not an easy task and admitted that it would be nice if there are more sponsors who are willing to co-operate with SLTA. With the sponsors, it will help SLTA continue its work in organising more world-class tournaments in Sarawak.

A total of 55 boys and 26 girls tennis players will represent their respective countries at the Asian U-14 Series tennis tournament next month.

Twelve countries have registered for the competition including Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Uzbekistan.

Among the players to watch during the tournament is Malaysia’s very own Koay Hao Sheng who is ATF ranking number seven, the highest in the tournament.

Alvin Teng Wee Jie is another player to watch as he is a local Sarawakian, ranked 109 in the ATF.

“Let’s see how well Malaysia do compared to the other countries in Asia in tennis. It will be exciting to see how well we do as we really harbour the ambition to be among the best tennis countries here in Asia,” said Liew at the end of the interview. --

Baker Boy gets first KL maindraw wildcard

The world of tennis often has stories that capture the imagination of fans and followers of the sport, and the stories of those individuals become quite inspirational. In 2012 one such story is that of the comeback of Brian Baker, the American tennis player who for almost a decade was not able to compete on the Tour because of injuries and surgeries.

Now, at the age of 27 he has been given a second chance. Since late April, Brian Baker has been on a wonderful journey and that journey will be making a transit stop in Kuala Lumpur, as the ATP World Tour weaves its way through Asia in a month’s time.

IMG’s Nick Freyer, Tournament Director of the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur today announced that Brian Baker has been given the first main draw wild card for the event to be played 22 to 30 September at the Putra Stadium, Bukit Jalil.

“We are excited that Brian has accepted the first singles main draw wild card,” Freyer said. “His story is truly inspirational; to think that a year ago he was coaching a college team in the United States having undergone five major surgeries to include a repaired elbow, hip and more.

“His comeback has been one of the most talked about stories in tennis and his determination to never give up has allowed him to move his world ranking from the deepest depths, to now be at a career high of 70. His story is one of THE sports stories of 2012 and our very welcoming tennis fans will have the opportunity to congratulate him for his achievements live when he plays the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur.”

From the US Open in New York where he is playing, Baker sent his thanks to the tournament.

“I am really pleased and appreciative to receive a wild card for Kuala Lumpur,” Baker said. “I have not made many trips to Asia and this would be my first time coming to Malaysia, so I am really looking forward to seeing a new city and a different culture. I’m sure it is going to be a fascinating experience and something quite different as this amazing year continues for me.”
As a junior, Baker was ranked two in the world – he was a finalist at the French Open juniors losing to Swiss No.2 Stan Wawrinka and won the prestigious Orange Bowl, but not long after he began to play the regular tour, the injuries started.

What should have been breakthrough results were interrupted as injuries and more injuries followed. Three different hip surgeries, a sports hernia and reconstructive surgery on his elbow, a year missed due to osteochondritis on the left femur in his kneecap, requiring surgery to shave down bad bone and take bone chips from his hip, and on it went. He even became injured playing Novak Djokovic in Wimbledon qualifying in 2005 and retired after two games.

Most would have given up any dreams and hopes of following a path in pro tennis. Baker was heading the same way but still in the corner of his mind there was some hope and belief that one day, the dim light at the end of the tunnel would get brighter. He was not prepared to let things go completely.

While coaching at a college he was also managing to play inter-club tennis with his father and uncle, Baker began to feel healthy. Earlier this Summer, he won a Challenger in Savannah, Georgia which gave him the USTA’s wild card for the French Open. He then went to Nice where he qualified and reached the final of the ATP 250 tournament; the journey that became the inspiring story had begun.

At the French Open he reached the second round where he took Gilles Simon to five sets on Court Philippe Chatrier. Next was Wimbledon and this time he qualified and then reached the last 16. It meant he had won six matches, in essence the number of matches one requires to reach a Wimbledon final.

“This whole year has been incredibly special for me,” Baker said. “It wasn’t that long ago when I wondered about my tennis future with all the time I had spent away from the circuit because of my injuries and surgeries, but I am a pretty competitive guy and I love this sport and that kept my hopes and beliefs alive.

“Getting the French Open wild card and doing well there allowed me to say that I was back. It has been like a whirlwind journey and very exciting to be a part of, while getting to enjoy so many new experiences which I am sure Kuala Lumpur is going to be another one.”

So seven years after the last time he played a full season on the tour, Brian Baker has a new lease of life with his career, and Kuala Lumpur is getting the chance to see what this “Baker Boy” is all about.And as part of this first wild card announcement, the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur is just as excited to reveal the 2012 version of its’ signature competition played daily after every centre court match, the “Catch the Ball Challenge”. On the last three days, Friday to Sunday, a Rado watch worth RM 6,600 each will be available as the Grand Prize of the day.

Freyer added: “One of our goals every year with the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur is to make sure our wonderful fans get to watch great tennis but most of all have fun and enjoy an experience to remember.

“Our player field is tremendous with players like David Ferrer, Juan Monaco, Alex Dolgopolov, Kei Nishikori, Sam Querry, Ryan Harrison to name a few and now Brian, and no doubt activities like our “Catch the Ball Challenge” with its prestigious Rado Grand Prizes will be right up there in the fun stakes.”

For more information on the Brian Baker story, see the links below :-

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: : Local Media Director, Malaysia, Mr. Ghaz Ramli at 60-16 243 0848 or email : --- source - Malaysian Open official website