Portugal’s unseeded Joao Sousa defeated fifth seed Julien Benneteau of France 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the the Malaysian Open final yesterday for his first career title.
Sousa, 24, who was supposed to play in the qualifying rounds, received an exemption from the organizers as he had qualified for the semi-finals in St Petersburg last week and could not arrive in Kuala Lumpur on time to play in the qualifiers.
The win also means world No. 77 Sousa has become the first player from his country to win an ATP Tour title.
Sousa is the seventh player to win a maiden title this season. The others include Bernard Tomic (Sydney), Horacio Zeballos (Vina del Mar) and Lukas Rosol (Bucharest).
It was a remarkable turnaround by Sousa, who was visibly nervous in the opening set, losing his serve in the fourth and eight games to drop it in 36 minutes.
Although his service did not improve much in the second, Sousa, who claimed his first top 10 scalp when he defeated world No. 4 David Ferrer in Friday’s quarter-finals, did enough to hold off Benneteau, including saving the championship ball in the second set to claim a come-from-behind 7-5 win to level the match.
Failing to convert the break point for victory clearly affected the Frenchman, while Sousa grew in confidence. He opened the deciding set by easily breaking Benneteau and never looked back.
For the 31-year-old Benneteau, it was the second consecutive year he has lost in the final in Malaysia. He is still searching for his first career singles title after reaching nine finals — matching compatriot Cedric Pioline, who only won his first title in his 10th final.
Sousa earned US$158,000 and 250 Emirates ATP ranking points, with the runner-up picking up US$83,240 and 150 points.
In the doubles final, American Eric Butorac secured his second Malaysian Open crown when he and his new partner, South African Raven Klaasen, defeated the Uruguayan-Argentinian pairing of Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos — who were semi-finalists at the French Open — 6-2, 6-4 in just 56 minutes.
Butorac first won a title in Bangkok in 2011 with Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer.
The champions won US$48,000 and the runners-up US$25,200.
Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic boosted his hopes of qualifying for the end-of-season ATP World Tour finals in London by downing Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 to win the Thailand Open yesterday.
The tall 22-year-old gave a lesson in serving as he delivered 18 aces on the indoor hard court in Bangkok to win the US$567,530 title, his second of the year after he retained his San Jose crown in February.
Raonic began the week 11th in the race to London with only the top eight guaranteed a spot, but his fifth career victory should move him up the congested leaderboard when the list is updated today ahead of the November event.
A tight first set between the powerful duo inevitably went to a tiebreak after Raonic was able to save the only break point.
The Montenegro-born third seed prevailed 7-4 before grabbing an early break in the second set with his only opportunity of the match.
Raonic then comfortably served out the set with the top seed Berdych unable to put any pressure on his opponent’s serve.
The loss leaves Berdych, fifth in the race to London, as the only player in the top 10 not to have won a title this season.