Xavier Malisse made a novel entry into the Centre Court on Monday — riding a tuk-tuk with open top. The Chennai Open defending champion from Belgium, much like the city’s famous three-wheeler, dumped his first round opponent Gilles Muller in no time for a 6-4, 6-3 victory to move into the second round of the $436,000 men’s tennis event.
“It was a nice lap around the court, nice reception. I have never been on a three-wheeler, it’s not in too many countries,” Malisse said after his victory in an hour and 14 minutes at the Nungambakkam stadium.
As Muller seemed have a sluggish start, Malisse sleep walked through the match. It was only in the middle of the second set that the 24-year-old from Luxembourg found his bearing and tried to make a match of it. But the Belgian had already uncorked a break by then and had no problem in holding on to the advantage to win the encounter.
Not that Malissed had any complaints. Far from it, he must have been a happy man for such an easy start. The 27-year-old missed almost the entire 2007 with a wrist injury and was coming into the tournament having played only five tournaments the past season.
“It (the victory) is good for the confidence, especially since I am playing after a long time,” Malisse, unseeded in the tournament, said.
“I tried to think that, everybody had two months off and nine or two months is the same. But I just didn’t know how it is going to show, and there was also the pressure of being the defending champion,” he added.
Up next for Malisse is sixth seed Jurgen Melzer in the second round. The Austrian made an even shorter work of Paul Capdeville of Chile, 6-2 6-4 in an hour and seven minutes.
“Tomorrow I have a rest day. I am going to wish my coach happy new year, have a bottle of champagne and relax,” Malisse said.
Muller, 6’5” tall, never really got his big serves going. He fired six aces in the match and five of them in the first set, but there were too many unforced errors, as many as 25 of them.
Malisse broke in the very first game and held on to his serve despite a double fault in the second.
Muller averted three break points in the fifth and went on to serve five aces in the seventh and ninth game, but it proved to be too late.
Malisse had another early break of serve in the second set, in the third game to go 3-1 up. From there on, he eased off the pedastal and cruised to victory.
Nadal loses in doubles
World number two Rafael Nadal made a losing start to his new season on Monday when he and his partner Bartolome Salva-Vidal were defeated in their opening doubles match at the Chennai Open.
The French Open champion dropped serve once in each set as the 2007 finalists went down 6-4, 6-4 against the first-time pairing of Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, the singles second seed, and Marc Gicquel of France.
‘Lee-Hesh should play here’
Former Davis Cup captain Vijay Amritraj on Monday criticised Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi for skipping the on-going ATP Chennai Open, saying the star players should support such home events.
“Country comes first when playing in events like Davis Cup and Federation cup and quadrangular games like Asian and Olympic Games and when you play with Indian flags around there is no substitute for that feeling.
“Every Indian (player) should extend support to home events like this (Chennai Open),” Amritraj told reporters here.
Paes and Bhupathi won three successive Chennai Open titles from 1997 to 1999. While Bhupathi last played in the tournament in 2005, pairing with Swedish Jonas Bjorkman to finish as runners-up, Paes’ last appearance at the elite event was in 2006 with Czech player Martin Damm.
Amritraj also suggested that Bhupathi and Paes should start playing together to be well prepared before the Beijing Olympics.
“They have been the best in the world at one point of time.
They have been there, done that. But yes, you do not want to be rusty when you get there (Olympics). So it will be nice if they play a few tournaments together,” he said.
(With inputs from Agencies)