When the ATP announced that the nation of Malaysia would be hosting its first ever tournament in 2009, I was not only happy but also proud. To be honest, it is never easy for a non-tennis oriented country to be added into the Tour calendar. Kuala Lumpur is a nice city, and I was wondering for a long time why this city was not one of the hosts for a professional tennis tournament. If Bangkok can, why can’t Kuala Lumpur? I have been to several Grand Slams, and each time they have ben dominated by  “the regular dominators” - living legends, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Hence, I thought back then that the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur would give a perfect chance to star players other than the previously mentioned, who we could be considered stars or ‘rising stars’. And, it has seriously proven to be the case since then, and this is my fourth consecutive year coming to this event from Australia – I have not missed a single day of the tournament – whether it was the qualifying rounds or the main draw itself. Though it is an ATP 250 event for both men singles and doubles champions respectively, this tournament has seriously been one of the favorites amongst the top players on the ATP World Tour men’s circuit.  Considered to be a huge tennis fan, I am extremely happy with the tournament! Many may wonder why this event is special to me compared to other ATP events that offer more money, more points, and more top-players. Well, these are the reasons I have had experienced and would love to share…

Putting the travel costs from Australia aside, I firstly came to this tournament in the year 2009. Though I was lost at the beginning of the tournament – was wondering where the venue was, how to get there and whatnot, but the experience to be one of the spectators was incredible. That year, there were players who were nearly at the peak of their careers, came to try their luck in this event. The likes of Nikolay Davydenko, Robin Soderling, and Fernando Verdasco were amongst the field of singles stars competing.  In the men’s doubles, the world-renowned Polish pair of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, alongside doubles specialists, Frantisek Cermak and Robert Linstedt made their debut in Malaysia. The tournament was exciting to me, as a fan – not only because the players gave their 110% to win the title, but they enjoyed themselves throughout their week in Malaysia.  Had anyone seen Gael Monfils dance to the music at any other tournament other than the 2009 Malaysian Open? Yes – he did that with all of us, the spectators present, just to liven up the atmosphere at Putra Stadium. Plus, Fernando Verdasco also spared some time with the fans despite succumbing to Nikolay Davydenko in the Finals - He awarded several of us fans with his towels, shoes, racquets and many of his belongings!  It made us fans really feel  appreciated, knowing the fact how tight the players were securitized in other tourneys. In Malaysia, you could even shake their hands, snap their pictures, and communicate with them without being felt heartbroken.

Talking about rising stars, I think this event gave the players a little bit – if not less exposure and experience on how tough the circuit can be, or how young-and-good the players are. Look at David Ferrer for instance; he was 19th ranked back then in 2009, and with this event he had competed in, where is he now? How many titles has he had won now? Not only that, Tomas Berdych also made his name (in KL) and he is one of the most consistent players on circuit. Plus, the twice a day public autograph sessions are always good; we all know that at many tournaments, it is impossible to get near the players, but here in Malaysia, it’s different. It is almost “do-all-you-like with them” – as long as good behavior is always observed!

In 2010, I returned from Australia for the tournament – hoping more top players had entered the tournament. My dream came true when 5 of the world’s top-ten players came to KL to participate. Robin Soderling and David Ferrer once again, Tomas Berdych and Nikolay Davydenko opted to participate as well, and Mikhail Youzhny completed the top-ranked list. Most expected David Ferrer or Robin Soderling to bag the title, but the tournament was interesting as many ‘underdogs’ sent a massive messages to their respective opponents – making it clear that winning in KL in 2010 would not be easy. For instance, David Ferrer was upset by giant killer Andrey Golubev, and tournament qualifier Igor Andreev sent defending champion, Nikolay Davydenko home earlier than expected. To the doubles’ side of draw, top-two seeded pairs were nowhere in danger as they both made it through the finals comfortably. The quarter-finals were exciting however, forcing three of the four matches to a third set decider. Hunting for a second consecutive doubles title, Matkowski and Fyrstenberg title defence was upset by Frantisek Cermak and Michal Mertinak. This edition of the Malaysian Open also never failed to give a major experience to younger players of what real ATP tournaments are like of. Big-server from Canada, Milos Raonic was a qualifier in this tournament, and he is one of the ‘hot prospects’ of tennis and currently ranked 15th in the world. How about Bernard Tomic, anyone? Yes – that young Australian lad? At only 17 years of age, he was already in the main draw after receiving a wildcard by the organizers IMG. Despite getting thrashed by David Ferrer in the first round, we can’t deny how valuable the experience was for him. Look where he is now, achieving a highest ranking of world number 27 in June 2012. To make it simple yet clear, the 2010 edition was a rather shocking tournament. And, those shocking moments were livid and made it more exciting and memorable. That was the reason why I chose to come back the following year.

To be honest, in the year 2011, I had a little argument with my parents as they already had planned a vacation in Thailand. Yes, my parents agreed that they would take me to Bangkok to watch the tournament that takes lace in the same week – and Andy Murray was one of the participants. However, I decided to go against their will and commit my desire to attend the tournament in Kuala Lumpur. And this year, though David Ferrer was ‘given’ a break, Nicolas Almagro, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki all made their debut in Malaysia. Unlike previous years, I was so delightful and very much looked forward to the public autograph sessions. Usually, I just take these sessions for granted, but to experience it for yourselves – to shake their hands, to wish hello and good luck, it was amazing! Hence, I got a lot of autographs from almost every player. To tourney-talk, Marcos Baghdatis stole the limelight this year, upsetting fourth-seed, Jurgen Melzer in the quarters and ousted second-seed, Troicki himself to book a spot in his first Malaysian Open finals - after 3 attempts. However, the usual third-time-lucky phrase did not apply to the friendly Marcos, seeing the Cypriot losing the finals to the hands of expected-champion amongst fans, Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia. In this particular year as well, I made many new friends at the event. Many of them came from everywhere across the globe and despite on a vacation, they willingly spared a day or two just for this event. Without any denial, I think the Japanese were one of the amazing crowds in this year’s edition. Many turned up to support and cheer for their home-favourite, Kei Nishikori. Some whom I asked even skipped work and school just to see Asia’s first-ranked player in the tournament. At that moment, particularly when Kei faced Nicolas Almagro, the crowd was spectacular, both Japanese and Spanish flags were waved between every single point. They even cheered as loud as they could in every winner. It was amazing, and it was worth it.

With just a week after the tournament rang it curtains down for the 2012 edition, I can safely say it was the best ever Malaysian Open I had been to. From qualifying rounds to the finals, some of the matches were so tight and very thrilling. David Ferrer was once again back this year, Juan Monaco, Julien Benneteau and Feliciano Lopez were a few of the new faces in the tournament main draw. Well, many would say in the previous years, the Malaysian tennis players were inexperienced, and they all clearly had overcome the problem. See how important a tournament in your nation can influence the nation’s hopes. For instance, in the qualifying match between Malaysian Assri Merzuki and Treat Huey, it was so tight. They were both hitting big forehands and had many long and exciting rally’s. Next, the quarter-final encounter between Igor Sijsling of  the Netherlands and David Ferrer was also a nail-biting match. That was probably the first time I had seen many Dutch fans turning up at the tennis stadium and cheering for their local hero, it makes me proud to be a partial-Dutch. Both players were breaking one- another constantly, and Igor prevailed in the first set. We all know that by reputation that David Ferrer never gives up untill he loses a match, and it was proven once again. He fought so hard without giving up, despite being sent runing here-and-there by Igor. However, experience said it all and Ferrer was victorious. I was happy to see my favourite player battling hard to topple my fellow countryman in such an impressivegame of grit and determination. The match finished at nearly 11 at night; whereby I nearly missed the last train. I didn’t care, as long as I was able to watch good tennis, it was all that mattered. The crowd was once again entertained when Ferrer himself playing against the tourney debutant, Julien Benneteau. I would be lying if I say I was not impressed with the French girls who were constantly chanting ‘Allez Julien’ and applauding as if he has won a Grand Slam! Once again, the stadium was filled and it was once again a tight yet anticipating match. Both sets of players had long rallies and several numbers of deuces in the match. It was so scary – being a Ferrer fan, to see him down on couple of match points; just for Julien to serve badly. David Ferrer gave everything and threw all his effort to get a break, but to no avail and lost the eventual match. In the semis, we were entertained by Kei Nishikori and his ‘Japanese Army’, playing against Juan Monaco. It was once more a three-set thriller and Juan Monaco won the encounter. The amazing thing about this match is – despite having a little twinge on his leg, Kei still managed to fight on and win the second set impressively. Having the thoughts of impressing the Japanese fans, he put all the pains and misery behind him and gave Juan a tough time on court – only to lose the match with honour.  And, for the long – awaited finals, I was clearly shocked when I saw the huge crowd. It was clearly surpassed expectations and I suggest the ATP should review the event once more. An ATP 500 Series event perhaps, Mr. Tom Barnes? Well, it started off with the men’s doubles final, where British hopes – no stranger to this event, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins battling out with the newly-made-partnership between Austrian Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares. I was hoping Colin and Rosco would win, whilst at the same time cheering for Alex and Bruno whom I had met and mingled with at  the players’ party. To me, whoever wins, I am going to be happy. Peya and Soares were victorious, and it was really amazing when Alexander Peya ran to me and gave me a ‘high-5’.  I was so touched and I knew he would come back next year again after saying to me “hope to see you here next year”. As of the men’s singles final, I managed to view the first 5 games of the first set, and was hurried to the airport and I had to catch up my flight back to Australia. I knew I missed a lot, really a lot knowing it was also such a tight singles final and Juan Monaco sealed the deal after long deuces, 21 or so I hear? Julien had been impressive and I say he was only unlucky not to have won and to still  be waiting for his first ATP title. And I realized, players that sat on the left of the umpire always lose the match – only Julien Benneteau had survived the ‘curse’.

Oh yeah, after 3 years of going without winning anything in the famous catch the ball tournament promotions, I hit the  ‘jackpot’ in this year’s edition. Having won many towels, wristbands, 6 giant-tennis-balls and a few caps that I gave away, I am surely in love with this tournament. The highlight for me was being invited to and attending the Players Party at he Double Tree – I got mingle and have a nice chat with the players themselves. I cannot imagine I was standing next to my doubles’ idol Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, chatting with eventual champions Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares about tennis, dancing with Dominic Inglot, Brian Baker, Frank Moser and Michael Kohlmann to the music, and even grabbed a picture with David Ferrer. It was once-in-a –lifetime experience that money cannot buy and I appreciate it a lot.  As of the tournament, I am looking forward to next year’s – many believed it is going to be the last, and I really hope it is not. I made lots of friends, from fans to organizers, to chair umpires and even with the players’ themselves. I think it is safe if I were to call the tournament director himself, Mr. Nick Freyer a ‘mate’. Both tournament cameramen Tobias Meinken and Bruno Siilveri also can be considered as good buddies. We are like a family and I am already missing each and every moment we had had together. I can’t wait to see you people from around the world next year, as I am already excited for the 2013 edition of the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur.



Written By Christijn van der Frustz, Australia