Radek Stepanek became the oldest winner of the ATP Legg Mason Tennis Classic since Jimmy Connors in 1988, the 32-year-old Czech upsetting French top seed Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4 in Sunday’s final.
Stepanek won his first ATP title in two-and-a-half years and the fifth of his career, rushing to the net to control the tempo and frustrate the fleet-footed Frenchman to claim the US$264,000 top prize at the US$1.4 million event.
“It’s a great satisfaction for me,” Stepanek said. “It’s great to still be able to compete with the young guns.”
Stepanek, the oldest player in the world’s top 100, became the ATP’s oldest champion since France’s Fabrice Santoro, then 35, in Newport in 2008, Washington’s eldest winner since a 35-year-old Connors and a top 30 player after starting the week ranked 54th.
“We’re like wine. The older we are getting, the better we are,” Stepanek said. “Age doesn’t matter. It’s how you feel. The speed is leaving slowly. We can’t compete with Mama Nature, but I’m working hard and it’s nice to see it paying off.”
Stepanek had lost five of seven prior matches to Monfils, including their most recent clash two weeks ago on clay in Hamburg, Germany, but he dominated his first final since last year in Brisbane, Australia, for his first title since 2009 in San Jose, California.
“I still believe in myself,” Stepanek said. “That’s why the emotion was there, winning a big tournament at this stage of my career. It will give me a bit of confidence, a great boost for the rest of the summer.”
Seventh-ranked Monfils, in his first US final and his first final of any kind since last year’s Paris Masters, fell to 3-11 in ATP title matches, foiled in a bid for his first outdoor hard-court crown and fourth career title.
“To be honest, I’m unlucky,” Monfils said of his finals failure rate.
Monfils, who never managed a break point against Stepanek, also said he was a bit tired after his rain-hit semi-final finished only 14 hours before the final started.
“But when you step on the court, you forget about this,” Monfils said.
Stepanek came to the net for 29 of his 57 points. While connecting on only 37 percent of his first serves, he won 90 percent of those points, including all 12 in the final set, and he took 63 percent of his second-serve points.
“He didn’t miss much,” Monfils said. “I was a fraction slower as well. I couldn’t hit many passing shots. He played a great match.”
From the start, Stepanek moved to keep Monfils on the defensive.
“I wanted to be in control,” Stepanek said. “If I was going to go for it or miss it, I wanted to decide all the points. It was my game plan to be aggressive and attack when I can. I was in control from the first point to the last.”
Stepanek broke Monfils with a backhand winner down the line in the third game of the match and led 3-2 when rain halted play. A break in the rain allowed them to play three points, enough for Stepanek to hold to 4-2, before another downpour hit.
“He was very aggressive,” Monfils said. “I expected that, but he didn’t miss a lot at the start, hit it pretty deep and fast. This was a bit tricky for me.”
When play resumed, each man held twice, Stepanek taking the set on a service winner after 54 minutes.
Stepanek broke Monfils again to open the second set, the Frenchman racing down the Czech’s forehand volley, but netting a forehand. Stepanek made the break stand, serving out to win after 93 minutes with a forehand-volley winner.