Local “wildcards” Rik de Voest and Raven Klaasen upset Spanish opponents on Monday as the SA Tennis Open returned to the ATP scene after a 14-year absence.
De Voest always had the edge over sixth seed Ivan Navarro en route to a 6-3, 6-4 win, while Klaasen overcame early nerves to oust Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 6-3, 7-5 at the Tuscan-style Montecasino entertainment center.
The tournament began with Leonardo Mayer outplaying Sergio Roitman 6-2, 6-4 in an all-Argentina duel, and German Simon Gruel was another straight-set winner, eliminating Romanian Victor Crivoi 6-2, 6-4 on the second court.
Warm, overcast weather greeted competitors at a venue transformed from a car park to four courts within a few months, and South Africans did not have to wait long for something to celebrate.
Milan-born De Voest is ranked 162 in the world — 89 places below Navarro — but the few hundred spectators at the first of two sessions never would have believed that fact as the aggressive South African dominated.
Success was especially sweet for De Voest, watched by his Canadian wife and parents, as he lost to his Spanish rival after a close two-setter in Rhode Island last year.
De Voest broke serve in the second game to set up his first-set win and recovered from losing three consecutive games when 5-1 up in the second to secure victory with an ace.
A place in the draw marked the biggest break in the career of 350-ranked Klaasen and after holding his serve in a lengthy opening match, he triumphed by breaking Hidalgo in the eighth game of the first set and 11th of the second.
Next up for Klaasen will be popular Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, who overcame South African qualifier Andrew Anderson 6-4, 6-2 without ever showing the form that propelled him to the 2006 Australian Open final.
There was some consolation for Spain in the night session when fourth seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez cruised to a 6-4, 6-3 win over German Bjorn Phau and the opening day finished with the six ties settled in straight sets.
The Argentinian clash was a lackluster affair with Mayer, at 21 the young challenger for the US$79,000 first prize, always sharper than error-prone Roitman.
Lack of funds forced South Africa to surrender its place on the ATP circuit after German Martin Sinner defeated Frenchman Guillaume Raoux in the 1995 South African Open.
■ ZAGREB INDOORS
Second-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia advanced to the second round of the ATP PBZ Zagreb Indoors tournament on Monday, ousting Arnaud Clement of France 6-4, 6-3.
Cilic held serve throughout the match and saved three break points at 1-2 in the second set before coasting to victory.
Ivan Ljubicic, also of Croatia, crushed Christophe Rochus of Belgium 6-4, 6-1 in just 57 minutes.
The victory extended Ljubicic’s strong form in Zagreb where he won the inaugural tournament in 2006 and was the finalist in 2007 and 2008.
Ljubicic broke Rochus early and the Belgian briefly recovered to come back to 4-5 in the first set, but managed to win only one more game in the match.
Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia beat countryman Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-4 to advance. Youzhny failed to convert any of his seven break points before bowing out.
Another of the nine Croatians in the tournament Antonio Veic, the 20-year-old who is ranked No. 255 in the world, upset veteran Guillermo Canas of Argentina 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Canas received medical attention for arm injury during the match.