20 April 2009
Top seed and world number 50, Fabrice Santoro of France, won the inaugural Soweto Open men’s tennis tournament, beating unseeded Rik de Voest of South Africa 7-5, 6-4 in the final at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex on Sunday.
Santoro, who has beaten 17 world number one ranked players during his career, broke De Voest in the fourth and twelfth games of the first set to take it 7-5.
However, the 36-year-old, who added R150 000 to his R100 million in career prize-money earned in 20 years on the ATP Tour, had to come from behind after De Voest played superbly to break serve in the match’s very first game.
De Voest, ranked 180th in the world, tried with all his might to wrest the first ATP tournament to be held in Soweto away from the Frenchman, but it was not to be.
The second set went with serve until De Voest was forced to serve to stay in the set and the match at 5-6, but he was struggling with stomach cramps due a virus, he admitted afterwards.
Santoro quickly moved into position to win the contest, with two match points in his back pocket. A pinpoint backhand down the line then gave him the title 7-5 6-4.
Speaking to radio station SAfm after his win, Santoro said it had been a pretty tough game, adding he enjoyed it because he won, but found it pretty difficult.
De Voest said he struggled with his serve and Santoro returned well. Towards the end of the contest, De Voest went on, he had trouble finding rhythm on his serve.
On Saturday, the semi-finals resulted in relatively comfortable victories for Sunday’s finalists. Santoro accounted fourth seed Thiago Alves 6-3 7-6 (7-2) and De Voest repelled the challenge of big-serving fellow South African Fritz Wolmarans 6-4, 7-5.
Apart from the specially-designed trophy by SA sculptor Des Khourie, there were 100 ATP world rankings points for the singles’winner and 60 points for the finalists, plus $14 400 for the inaugural champion in the City of Johannesburg-sponsored tournament and $8 480 for the loser.
In the doubles final, the duo of George Bastl from Switzerland and Australian Chris Guccione took the coveted trophy home courtesy of a 6-2 4-6 11-9 win over the Russian pair of Michail Elgin and Alexandre Kudryavtsev.
The doubles’ inners picked up $6 200 and the same number of rankings points (100) as in singles, with the finalists taking away $3 600 and 60 points.
‘The goal is to grow the game’
South African Tennis Association (Sata) CEO Ian Smith reflected on the venue, the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex, and said it was an important location for an ATP event to take place. “The goal is to grow the game,” he explained, “and Soweto represents a major part of our history, which makes staging the tournament here an appropriate one.
“The City of Johannesburg, Gauteng government and the National Lottery have backed Sata, and the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex is a fine development in that regard.”
Looking ahead, Smith added: “Sata also aim to get Futures tournaments here, simultaneous men’s and women’s events, plus the mini-tennis and coaching components – this will service a lot of people.”
An international-class venue
In addition to the eight courts already in use at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex, another eight are being built, with another R9-million being injected into the facility, to bring the venue up to the standard of the international-class venue that Smith envisages.
The action is far from over in Soweto; the Soweto Women’s Open takes place at the same venue from 25 April to 3 May. After that, South Africa face Belarus in a crucial Davis Cup tie from 8 May to 10 May.
SAinfo reporter and South African Tennis Association
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