Monfils impresses at SA Open
There was a momentary scare at the start of the game before stealthy Parissienne panther Gael Monfils devoured an increasingly harrassed Dominik Hrbaty and made his South African Open debut at Montecasino on Tuesday night with an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory.
But when the world’s 13th-ranked player and South African Open top seed made a succession of hasty, unforced errors in the first two games and trailed 0-2, the expression on the face of South African Tennis Association CEO and tournament director of the R3,75-million event Ian Smith turned what might aptly be described as a whiter-shade-of-pale.
The prospect of a shattering upset for the enthusiastic, but at that stage somewhat bemused crowd proved to be no more than an illusion.
Monfils settled down and displaying his mixture of guile and power outclassed the Slovakian veteran who six years ago was ranked 12th in the world—with the audacious French entertainer reeling off 12 of the next 13 games in a match that lasted no more than 52 minutes.
Monfils put his hesitant start to having “rushed onto the court” following other engagements. “But afterwards it was cool,” he added, “and I think I played well enough.”
To counter the extra pace of the ball in high altitude Monfils increased the tension of his racket strings—“and it worked well.”
South African Davis Cup squad member Raven Klaasen said he would probably have been an accountant had he not ventured into the realms of a career in professional tennis.
And at sweltering Montecasino on Tuesday afternoon, the unassuming 27-year-old Klaasen must have been counting his blessings after beating France’s David Guez 6-4 6-3 in the opening round to tabulate a successful week in which he had earlier won the South African Closed title that earned him a place in the ATP tournament in the first place.
In beating a player ranked 243 places better than his own 375th world ranking, King Williams Town-born Klaasen led an encouraging two-pronged entry of South Africans into the last 16 stage of the Montecasino tournament, with Izak van der Merwe accounting for Israel’s Noam Okun 7-6 (5) 7-6 (2) as a result of an infinitely more potent serve.
But just as the weather changed dramatically from the rain-spattered chill of the opening day on Monday, South African Fritz Wolmarans wilted in the oppressive heat and looked nothing like the dominant player who had beaten the accomplished Edouard Roger-Vasselin in a qualifying match 24 hours earlier while going down to Germany’s Bjorn Phau 6-4 7-5.
It was not a good afternoon for seeded players as well, with Switzerland’s fourth-seeded Marco Chiudinelli going down 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 after a fierce scrap against Jamaican giant Dustin Brown and sixth-seeded Xavier Malisse losing 6-4, 6-2 to up-and-coming Indian Davis Cup player Somdev Devvarman—who confirmed his liking for South African conditions following his dominant role in deciding the World Group Davis Cup play-off at Ellis Park in September.
Third seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, however, preserved the reputation of being the turnament’s dark horse with a 6-1, 6-7, (5) 6-3 win over qualifier Benjamin Balleret that turned out a lot tougher than had appeared in the early stages.
Lopez boasted the unenviable achievement after leading 3-0 in the final set of serving a hat trick of three successive doubles faults—something of a phenomenon for a player renowned for his fierce left-handed deliveries—but he recovered from this trauma and edged out his resolute opponent in the end of a trying battle.
Klaasen now plays Yen-Hen LU in the second round after the Taipei seventh seed had comfortably beaten a languid Jarkko Nieminin 6-3 6-2, with the one-time Finnish top 20 player looking as though he was more interested in catching a plane home than progressing in the tournament.
And Van der Merwe will be hoping his lethal serve will again prove decisive and earn him a place in the quarterfinals when he comes up against France’s Stephane Robert in the second round.—Sapa