Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen beat Julien Benneteau 6-2, 7-5 in the rain-delayed Sydney International final yesterday, sealing a remarkable tournament win after he came through qualifying.
Nieminen, ranked 77th, came into the pre-Australian Open contest with a 4-0 record against Benneteau and took a firm grip on the match after being broken in the first game, forcing three breaks of serve in the first set.
The second set at Olympic Park went with serve, with the 49th-ranked Frenchman saving a match point in the 10th game with a forehand winner to stay alive.
However, Nieminen refused to be denied, holding serve and breaking his fellow 30-year-old to take the second set 7-5 in just under 80 minutes, sealing only the second tournament win of his career.
He is the first qualifier to win an ATP title since Sergiy Stakhovsky won in St Petersburg in 2009.
“I tried to focus and win every point I could. I think I managed to do that pretty well,” Nieminen said.
“I don’t have a good record in finals, but I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong in the ones I’ve played,” said the Finn, who has been a beaten finalist 10 times. “Today I felt I had a really good chance to take the title as I had the game to do it. It’s been many years since that first title and I had many finals after that, but I’m pretty good at believing in myself.”
The only previous ATP title for the left-handed Nieminen, a beaten Sydney finalist in 2009, came in Auckland in 2006.
Persistent showers on Saturday had prevented any play between the unseeded Benneteau, still searching for his first title, and Nieminen, who has been ranked as high as 13th.
The Australian Open, the year’s first grand slam, starts in Melbourne today.