Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur Fabulous Fifth Year

 


 

 

Hi there again guys. First and foremost, I would like to wish a very happy fifth anniversary to the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur. There we go again; another fantastic week was sparred with no boredom – a lot of excitement and entertainment. I initially thought this year’s edition would welcome the similar faces of David Ferrer, Kei Nishikori and Jurgen Melzer. True enough I was wrong. It was one day during the U.S. Open this year where I received a message from the Tournament Director himself, Nick Freyer saying that this year’s edition is a ‘must-go’. He also mentioned that he would be bringing top stars – and warned me strictly not even to try guessing who they are! Of course I did not obey his request – and start naming few marquee players. I would be lying if I had guessed the likes of Rafa, Nole or Fed – you need millions to just get them play! It is just beyond our imagination to get them here. It was a long 2 weeks thinking of who might come this time round to take the trophy out of the grasp of Juan Monaco.

 

Shortly days after Rafael Nadal clinched his U.S. Open title, it was announced that David Ferrer and a Swiss player, Stan Wawrinka – who had pushed the world no. 1 beyond his rightful limit in two different grand slams would be leading this year’s open. What was my reaction? I was practically jumping on my bed up and down! Come on guys, when you have these two players, who would not be happy? Not only that, it was also announced that Marin Cilic, Andreas Seppi, defending champion Juan Monaco, and Julien Benneteau were amongst the top players who would make the Kuala Lumpur trip. If these players mentioned are too obvious and popular, few rising stars or potentially top players-to-be like Pablo Carenno Busta, Federico Delbonis, Chung Hyeon are few who might rule tennis one day – fingers crossed. Besides, Canadian Vasek Pospisil would make his second appearance, Nikolay Davydenko would come back the fifth time, Marcos Baghdatis is back this year. For those who are more to the doubles, our defending champions, Bruno Soares & Alex Peya skipped the tournament and few new faces are here questing for not only 250 vital points, but also the champion’s trophy. Former world number one Nenad Zimonjic, who is London bound really need those points to qualify for the World Tour Finals. Would he be able to grab sufficient points?

 

I have to be honest; the qualifying round this year was not as intense as last year’s. I also noticed that the Malaysian players are improving game by game, year by year. Malaysia’s number 1 Assri Merzuki had improved remarkably since I saw him featured last year – managed to take Eric Butorac to the rubber set. And what surprised me the most – and probably the local fans too was when the wildcard Ashaari Zainal tore Enrico Becuzzi to pieces with an impressive score line victory! Wow, look how the Malaysian Open had done to these players! It gave them a proper exposure and experience what top-level of tennis is all about. And the Malaysian crowd seeing their local boys in action was fairly impressive, cheering and cheering points after points even when the players are down. That’s the spirit we should all have to inspire the players to do better on court; to win something for those who supported them.

 

Thanks to the Tournament Director again, I was invited to the Players’ Welcome Cocktail Party the second time running. As I had mentioned before, you can never buy these experienced mingling, rubbing-shoulders with these players. This year, the security was a little bit tighter, as the last year players cannot even get a bite of their food! They formed a line barrier so that fans would not go rush them players and you know, snapping pictures after pictures and eventually skip their meal! I was there at the DoubleTree by Hilton pretty early and saw few players by the poolside. I approached them and talked to them. It was surprising how friendly they were – you never see Rajeev Ram smile on court, but he did smile when he spoke to me. I find few players are relatively shy too, like Lukas Dlouhy and Victor Hanescu. They only reply yes or no to whatever you asked them! I was so happy and thankful to be given the chance to snap a photo with Jojo Melzer, Stan Wawrinka himself and even legend Pat Cash. What more can you ask for? It was hard to grab a photo of you with the Spanish players, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer as the guards were guarding them tightly – even the PM of Australia was not guarded that tight! My friend Brandan & I managed to catch the attention of theirs, and they instructed the guards to let him in. And, David Ferrer who refused to be pictured with anyone initially called us and willingly had us with him. He told us “You come every year, no?”. We glad that he remembered us, after the shout of support every year we gave him! I also made lots of friends, from the ATP guys, to the CNN crews and many more!

 

Most seeded players succumbed on the early rounds like Nikolay Davydenko, Vasek Pospisil, and Nicolas Almagro. Things only got serious during the quarters, during the Sousa-Ferrer match. Fans were definitely divided – some sections shouted for Joao, some cheering for David. I guess David Ferrer was a bit inconsistent in that match, committing handful of unforced errors on important points, failing to convert his chances. Similarly, Joao Sousa took advantage of that and took a commanding first set lead to boost his confidence even more! The second set was probably the best of the tournament to that date – where Ferrer played a much better game and Sousa remained his pace and technique. When David Ferrer got a break, converting his trademark ‘saving the match point’, the whole premium seats stood up shouting ‘Vamos’ and hugging, high five-ing each other expecting to see the third set. However, Joao Sousa was far a better player that night, pushing David Ferrer beyond his limits and it was a well deserved victory for him. The next match of Stan Wawrinka against Dmitry Tursunov was also pretty tight. Dmitry who is known for his fast first serve and precise second serve put Stan under pressure – taking him left and right, front and back and earned the first set. I guess the fans played a role in this match, where you can see Stan came back stronger and replied Tursunov with a glorious moment of tennis – the Swiss specialty, ‘one-handed backhand’. The rubber set was magnificent, both players held their serves, no long rallies as both were tired, but the tie breaker was disappointing to watch, a bad ending to a good tennis from both players. If Dmitry had not committed too many double faults, things would have been better I guess. To the doubles, top seed fellow Dutch Jean-Julien Rojer & Aisam Qureshi was ousted, so was the third seed, Scott Lipsky & Santy Gonzalez. Of course it was devastating, but you don’t win if you don’t lose right? Jurgen Melzer and Julien Benneteau also both made to the semis the easier way. However, on the same night, I guess Julien Benneteau was too tired and his quest with Nenad Zimonjic ended. They have four tournaments left however, to get themselves to the O2 Arena.

 

Of course you would expect good semis so that not only you can watch longer; you can also watch good tennis. The first semi-final match was between Joao Sousa of Portugal, labelled as the ‘giant killer’ after defeating number one seed David Ferrer in the quarter finals, up against Austrian pride for both singles and doubles, three times doubles Grand Slam winner Jurgen Melzer. The match started off well from both players – Joao hitting left and right, making his opponent run, and Jurgen giving his typical backhand drop shot. It was pretty intense – long rally in between and finally Joao managed to break Jurgen’s serve to clinch the set. Of course, Jojo was not very happy, and few times indicating that he might just go wild shouting and possibly break something. True enough he smashed his racquets after losing a point, getting a warning from the umpire. He came back stronger after that, taking the second set and forcing Joao Sousa so play yet another long match. They say, throw whatever you have got against Joao, he would put them all behind him. He was victorious again, defeating the fourth seed – only after challenging a call that was initially out to be victorious once more. How did he even do it? He just got back from a semi-final in Saint Petersburg last week, and took approximately 13 hours on board and entering the final the next weekend, isn’t he tired? How amazing! Everyone was eagerly waiting for the next encounter between Stan Wawrinka and Julien Benneteau. I was shocked as there were many Swiss flags up high too! Not surprisingly, the French crowd came back once more to support their local hero. No wonder Julien loves it here – and no doubt about Stan too! Julien took and early break and many thought Stan would break back, but Julien’s tennis was so good. He held his serve – big serves, brilliant drop shots, you-tell-me. French crowd went crazy back then, screaming their hearts all out during the changeovers. Second set went the French- way too, Stan was too tired based on how he plays, and Julien took full advantage of it; aiming to win his maiden ATP title in nine attempts. On the doubles side, alternate pairing Rik de Voest of the South Africa and Somdev Devvarman amazing run came to an end after losing to Horacio Zeballos and 2008 French Open doubles winner Pablo Cuevas. On the other hand, Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen, who had won in Metz the previous week, double-teamed Rajeev Ram and ‘Mr. Macho’, Horia Tecau.

 

As for the finals, I think after the brilliant run Joao Sousa had had, I think he deserves the title. Similarly, after eight different occasions, twice here in KL, Julien deserves at least a title and KL seems to be the best place. I was eagerly waiting to see how both players react if any of them would win their first title. The first final was the doubles match. With more experience, Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen took them title easily and this made Eric Butorac the most successful man in Malaysian Open history so far, having won twice here. I was happy too as soon as the match ended; both of them gave me a high-five. Raven gave me his wristband, and both players took 20 minutes or so signing autographs all over the stadium. Both players also promised to return next year, and we’ll see how true that is. And for the most eagerly-awaiting final, I thought the stadium would be filled with the French crowd only. I was wrong, the Portuguese was even louder!! I set my mind to be neutral, to be happy if anyone wins. Joao Sousa was certainly nervous when he started the match. His serves were out, inaccurate compared to the past few days and things just were not right. Every point he gave the stare at his coach. And, of course by playing like that, he lost the set easily to Julien Benneteau. You should see how Julien stared at the crowd after winning the set. His confidence was so high, like they say strike while the iron is hot! Second set was pretty good, both players held their serves at the early stage, and at one point Julien was on a match point. Joao seemed to give up, but once he took the match point to deuce, he was the most confident person in the planet. He broke Julien’s serve and eventually wrap up the set to make it even. What good was, this set was filled with deuces and every point worth watching. Even the umpire Mohammed Lahyani was smiling at every point – shaking his head when either player hit an amazing winner! This is how good the tournament can be. The third set, I could see that Julien was really exhausted. When Joao took the break at the opening game, I thought it was the end. I got wrong the second time, when Julien fought very hard fighting to break back. Probably, one of the best – if not the best tennis he had ever played. Every point he earned he shouted the typical ‘Allez’! He pushed Joao very hard, but never really had the chance to convert because Joao made sure that he made no room for mistakes to come into play! Few match points Joao got were saved by Julien. The French crowd motivated him more and more. Then, there was this moment when Joao served, Julien replied with a brilliant return down the baseline, then a few rally or so, Joao seemed to be unstable while retrieving a shot from Julien, probably losing another match point yet again – but only for Julien to hit it out. Joao threw the racquet and fell to the ground, Julien’s heart was broken I was pretty sure. I cried looking at him, it was sad fighting very hard and losing a match – an important one. However, Joao Sousa had a remarkable run and only by winning the title would prove it. The Portuguese fans never kept silent even when he was a match-point down and so was the French, and I am glad to see this in a tennis match. Joao then ran to this coach giving him a deserving hug, greeted the fans. Words cannot describe how amazing this final was. I would rate this match better than this year’s Roland Garros final for sure – match intensity wise!

 

And now, people are saying it would be the last. Do you really want it to be the last? Crowds were amazing, top players starting to recognize this tournament, crews are friendly as always. It would be sad to wave goodbye, but with the finals we’ve shown for the past 2 years, it beats any other ATP 250 event and the popularity of this tournament is certainly going nowhere but upwards. The excitement we had – autographs session, catch the ball contest and so many more can not be stopped halfway. This tournament has to continue – and I believe it will. The reception from the players are good, according to our Tournament Director himself and he promised to make it a better one next year! Do not expect too much, but we do not need Rafa or Federer or Novak to have a good final in Malaysia, do we? We had had a good one in recent years, and looking forward to many more! Big thanks to all the IMG Group, crews, our tournament Master of Ceremony JD, and all the fans that had made this event a one not to forget! Please do come again next year, I ensure you would not regret a week of your life!

 

 

 

- Christijn van der Frustz, MOKL superfan

 

< BACK