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Xavier Malisse clinches Chennai Open

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BREEZY VICTORY: Xavier Malisse (right) had it easy against Stefan Koubek in the final. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan
BREEZY VICTORY: Xavier Malisse (right) had it easy against Stefan Koubek in the final. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Nandita Sridhar

  • Malisse had served six aces in the singles match
  • Another disappointment for Nadal

    Chennai: Despite those quick legs and the temper, Xavier Malisse appears stiff-jointed between points and a deadpan drawler when off the court.

    Having just dismantled Stefan Koubek 6-1, 6-3 in the Chennai Open final, he could have been forgiven for an embarrassing show of ecstasy in the presentation ceremony, instead of the restrained drawl of happiness and gratitude. After all, this was only his second title in 10 finals, a statistic that allowed jubilance.

    Flawed strategy

    His tennis is similarly restrained, though not lacking in dynamism. His forehand shots can sometimes deceive the opponent into misjudging its ferocity. All he needed to unpack at the Nungambakkam Stadium on Sunday was the forehand, and the serve. Koubek did the rest, with a surprisingly flawed strategy that had little to do with attacking Malisse's backhand.

    The Belgian had served six aces in the match, as opposed to Koubek's whopping none. The Austrian was broken in the first game itself. Sending across his forehand with generous topspin, his strategy only helped Malisse. The Belgian found enough time to run around and thump down a forehand winner, dictating the points all along. An exchange of breaks later, Malisse broke Koubek to take a 4-1 lead.

    With his backhand as his strength, Koubek could have done a little more with that. He executes his backhand with a cramped-for-room action, but found it heading straight for Malisse's forehand. Malisse sent the ball deep, like he did against Nadal, with the left-handed Koubek in no position to consistently go for his backhand. His hard-hitting brutal assault, especially on the short ones, made it all the less easier for the Austrian.

    Deep into the second set, he attacked Malisse's backhand a little more, but the third seed had too much going for him at that stage. Cutting down on the altitude slightly, he served better, but could not prevent the straight sets loss.

    Malisse showed signs of a wobbly-knee when serving for the match, looking nervous and spraying out a forehand at match point. He did not let slip the second opportunity, with an error by Koubek putting a stop to the carnage.

    "This is a dream start for me. I didn't relax after beating the top seed, which shows that I've matured that way. I have a good coach (David Felgate) now, and the combination is working very well. It's been a fantastic week, and will give me good confidence for the Australian open," said Malisse.

    "The win against Nadal helped my confidence a lot. I had played some good matches against the top players last year, but didn't win," he said.

    The Belgian is capable of raising his game against the top players. He did that against Andre Agassi in the U.S. Open in 2005, stretching the American, and troubled Roger Federer in the Rogers Cup last year. "He played unbelievably today. I tried to hit slower and higher, but he still managed to get it. He's a great winner for the tournament," said Koubek.

    Malisse received $65,850 and Koubek pocketed $35,500. A.K. Sinha, Chairman and MD, BSNL, gave away the prizes.

    Tough fight

    Later, Malisse, partnering Dick Norman beat Rafael Nadal and Bartolome Salva-Vidal 7-6(4), 7-6(4) in the doubles final.

    The match saw no service breaks for the entire one hour and 44 minutes duration, with neither side giving an inch. The Belgian pair dominated the first set tie-break, racing to a 6-2 lead, before closing it out.

    In their eagerness to draw level, Nadal and Vidal let slip a 4-2 lead in the second set tie-break, losing all points thereafter.

    Malisse-Norman will take home $20,250 together, with the Spaniards sharing $11,550$.

    The results (finals): Singles: 3-Xavier Malisse (Bel) bt Stefan Koubek (Aut) 6-1, 6-3.

    Doubles: Malisse-Dick Norman (Bel) bt Rafael Nadal (Esp)-Bartolome Salva-Vidal (Esp) 7-6(4), 7-6(4)

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