Baghdatis captures fourth career title

CYPRIOT SUCCESS:While Marcos Baghdatis claimed victory in Sydney, Fernando Verdasco was a winner in Melbourne and towering John Isner triumphed in Auckland

AFP , SYDNEY

Sun, Jan 17, 2010 - Page 20

Former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis capitalized on a poor tie-breaker by Frenchman Richard Gasquet to claim the Sydney International title yesterday.

The 42nd-ranked Cypriot won a rain-interrupted final 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) in 1 hour, 43 minutes to capture his fourth career title just days before the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Baghdatis, who lost the 2006 Australian Open final to Roger Federer, broke Gasquet’s opening service game and went on to take the first set in 45 minutes, before rain suspended play during the first game of the second set.

After a 90-minute delay, Gasquet broke Baghdatis’ serve for the only time in the fourth game, when the Cypriot double-faulted on break point and led 5-3, but he had a shaky service game in the ninth when he went down three break points and Baghdatis broke back, leveled and took the set to a tie-breaker.

Gasquet got the first mini-break in the tie-breaker to lead 2-0, but Baghdatis reeled off the next seven points to take the set and the championship.

Gasquet served two double-faults and made two forehand errors to virtually hand the set and the match to Baghdatis.

It was the first meeting at senior level between the two players, although they played each other as juniors.

Baghdatis is fighting his way back up the rankings after climbing from 100 at the end of 2008 to No. 42 last season, highlighted by his third career ATP World Tour title in Stockholm in October.

Gasquet, currently ranked 53, was bidding to become the first Frenchman since Guy Forget in 1991 to win the Sydney title.

Although he thrilled the crowd with his signature one-handed backhand, he succumbed to ill-opportune errors at crucial times during the second set to lose the initiative.

■KOOYONG CLASSIC

REUTERS, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Spain’s Fernando Verdasco issued a warning to his rivals ahead of the Australian Open with an emphatic 7-5, 6-3 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to clinch the Kooyong Classic yesterday.

World No. 9 Verdasco, who pushed defending champion Nadal to five sets in an epic semi-final at Melbourne Park last year, broke the 10th-ranked Frenchman late in the first, then twice early in the second to seal the win in blustery conditions at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.

Verdasco played solidly in all three matches at the eight-man invitational, a strong return to form after he was bundled out of the ATP Tour Finals in London in November after three consecutive defeats.

The Spaniard beat world No. 8 Roger Soderling of Sweden in straight sets prior to demolishing third-ranked Serb Novak Djokovic 6-1, 6-2 on Thursday at Kooyong, a tournament seen as a form guide for the Australian Open.

Verdasco, a three-times winner on the ATP tour, meets Australian wild card Carsten Ball in the first round at Melbourne Park, which begins tomorrow.

Tsonga, who upset a string of more-fancied opponents to reach the final at Melbourne Park in 2008, has been paired with Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Stakhovsky upset 25th-ranked Sam Querrey of the US in an exhibition match on Friday.

Earlier yesterday, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic was upset by Australian teenager Bernard Tomic 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in another exhibition match.

■HEINEKEN OPEN

AFP, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Towering John Isner of the US clinched his first ATP title yesterday, firing a barrage of aces to clinch a nail-biting victory over Frenchman Arnaud Clement in the final of the Heineken Open.

The 24-year-old hit 22 aces, but his high unforced error rate kept the ice-cool Frenchman in contention for the Auckland title until Isner grabbed the advantage in the third-set tie-breaker for a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7/2) victory.

The title win in only his second ATP world tour final capped a year when the 2.06m Isner climbed more than 100 places in the world rankings to 33 at the start of the week.

Clement had little answer in the first set to Isner’s booming serve and powerful ground strokes, which had earlier accounted for seventh seed Juan Monaco and top seed Tommy Robredo.

Like Isner, Clement was unseeded in the Auckland event with a world ranking of 67, but the 2001 Australian Open finalist found his best form to defeat second seed David Ferrer and sixth seed Jurgen Melzer on his way to the final.

Isner broke his 33-year-old French opponent in the eighth game of the first set and easily held his service games to take the first set 6-3.

Clement came back strongly in the second set, however, using the serve and volley, and targeting Isner’s backhand to unsettle his bigger opponent.

Unforced errors in Isner’s final service match of the second set saw the steadier Clement take the final into three sets.

The pair both dropped their first service games of the third set, but settled back into their rhythm to force the tie-break. Isner raced to a 6/2 lead and clinched the title with a booming forehand.

■HOBART INTERNATIONAL

REUTERS, SYDNEY

Ukraine’s Alona Bondarenko defeated Israel’s Shahar Peer 6-2, 6-4 in the final of the Hobart International yesterday to claim her second WTA title.

Bondarenko raced to victory in 73 minutes, despite dropping serve twice in the second set, to add the Hobart title to her previous win in Luxembourg in 2006.

In the doubles final, Chuang Chia-jung of Taiwan and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic defeated Taiwan’s Chan Yung-jan and Monica Niculescu of Romania 3-6, 6-3, 10-7.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER