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With Malisse intent, Xavier doubles his haul

The Belgian won a ?dream? double ? the first ever in the decade-long existence of the Chennai Open, reports S Kannan.

india Updated: Jan 07, 2007 23:45 IST
S Kannan

In one week, Xavier Malisse has become a household name in Chennai. On a pleasant Sunday evening, the Belgian won a ‘dream’ double — the first ever in the decade-long existence of the Chennai Open.

Raucous fans screamed themselves hoarse — and it did not happen in the singles final, in which Malisse defeated Stefan Koubek 6-1, 6-3, but in the doubles final. Malisse was back on court in less than an hour as he teamed up with Dick Norman — for the first time — and buried Rafael Nadal and Bartolome-Silva Vidal 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/4).

Chennai witnessed top-class doubles action in plenty when the Indian duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi used to call the shots. The Indian pair is now history and in the new age, it is stars like Nadal and the seasoned Malisse who have become huge identities.

Nadal, despite losing the singles semifinal to Malisse a day earlier, did not come up short in doubles. He tried all the shots in the book — smart drives, crisp volleys, also conjuring up some amazing angles. But on the day, his inexperienced partner Vidal found the cauldron-like atmosphere too hot to hold his nerve.

In a tournament where spectator involvement is waning, the arrival of Nadal, coupled with Malisse’s superb showing, injected a new life.

Malisse, who has finished in the top 50 in singles for almost half a decade on the trot, flies back home as the superstar of Chennai.

It would not be an exaggeration to state that the Belgian fired himself up very well this week and will never hesitate in coming back to Chennai. He took on Koubek in the singles final with aplomb, and was never bothered in the contest, which lasted just over an hour.

With a hard serve, fluent forehands and smart backhands, Malisse was untroubled by Koubek, who made far too many errors. But full marks to Malisse for maintaining composure and playing such solid tennis; he looked  simply unbeatable.

“This the kind of start you look for at the start of the year. Your confidence soars after that,” said Malisse. He attributed his success to his off-court training “I worked hard and things fell in place this week. I cannot ask for anything more,” said the emotional Belgian.

For his part, Koubek looked lost on Sunday at the Nungambakkam Stadium. “The crowds were simply unbelievable and Koubek was under pressure,” said Malisse.
Analysing his career, Malisse said there was nothing unusual about his sudden rise. “People told me I had potential. Perhaps I matured a bit late. In the past, I got tough draws and ran into the big guys early. Now I feel good,” he added.
“Xavier was unbelievable. He played very sound tennis,” said Koubek. “The crowds were unbelievable too!”

Results (finals)
Singles: Xavier Malisse bt Stefan Koubek 6-1, 6-3; Doubles: Xavier Malisse/Dick Norman bt Rafael Nadal/ Bartolome Silva Vidal 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/4).