Local crowd favourite Nick Kyrgios gave fans something to cheer about with a strong performance in the first set of his first round match of the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur this evening at Centre Court of Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
The 20-year-old Australian moved into the second round with a 6-1, 2-1(RET) victory after Columbian Santiago Giraldo retired in the second set due to illness.
Playing the best tennis of his career this year and reaching a career high ranking of No.25 in June after advancing to his first ATP World Tour final in May, Kyrgios paid tribute to his training efforts and believes he can win his first tour title right here in Kuala Lumpur.
“I think I performed really well. I’m really happy with the performance, especially it’s my first ever win in Kuala Lumpur. I felt like I did a lot of good training work at home so I’m feeling good. (My target is) definitely to win the tournament. That’s my goal. I got to do everything I can here,” said the Aussie lad, who has a Malaysian mother.
In the only other singles first round tie contested today, German Benjamin Becker (#74) upset the odds to defeat big serving Aussie Sam Groth 6-1, 7-6(6) in 73 minutes.
The 34-year-old German number two has endured a difficult year, having not made the quarterfinals of a Tour Level tournament since last October and only winning 8 out of 26 matches, but took advantage of an out-of-sorts Groth to move into the second round.
Groth, the world record holder for the fastest service at 262km/h, is enjoying a career best ranking of No.53 but could not discover his serving rhythm in the first set (racking up 5 double faults) and then lost his nerve in the tie-break to squander two set points and the match.
“It’s always tough to play against Sam. He has a big serve so it’s hard to play your game. He had chances in the tie-break but I won some good points. I’ve had a tough year – a lot of third setters which I lost – so I’m glad to win here in two sets. It’s always nice to come back to the place you’ve had some success,” said Becker, who made the quarterfinals last year in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian wildcard pairing Mohd Assri Merzuki and Syed Mohd Agil Syed Naguib put up a good showing in the first set, but could not sustain their performance as they went down 7-5, 6-2 in 62 minutes to the Mexican-German duo of Santiago Gonzalez and Phillip Petzschner in their first round doubles match.
The local pair have won four doubles titles as partners on the local circuit, but could not yet step up to the level required against their opponents, who are debuting their partnership but have 16 doubles titles between them.
“I think we played well in the first set and put up a fight. We tried to do our best in the second set, especially with the crowd behind us, but we could not keep up our momentum,” said Agil after the match.
Qualifying matches concluded earlier in the day, with two Japanese players, Yuichi Sugita and Yasutaka Uchiyama, securing their spots in the main draw.
Top seeded qualifier Sugita (#131) ousted Italian Matteo Donati 6-4, 7-6(2) while seventh seeded qualifier Uchiyama came from a set down to upset qualifying second seed Italian Luca Vanni 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-5 in a 2 hour and 17 minute thriller.
The 23-year-old Uchiyama will be proud to have secured his first ever appearance in the main draw of a Tour Level Tournament.
The other qualifiers moving into the singles main draw include Poland’s Michal Przysiezny, who beat American Daniel Nguyen 6-0, 6-1, and German Mischa Zverev, who overcame New Zealand’s Artem Sitak 6-4, 7-6(5) to join his younger brother Alexander in the main draw.
SEEDS START CAMPAIGNS TOMORROW
It’s a jam-packed day of action at the Putra Stadium in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow with six first round singles and two doubles matches being contested on the fourth day of the Malaysian Open.
The remaining seeds in the first round are set to take to court, with fifth seed Viktor Troicki of Serbia (#24), sixth seeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy (#26) and eighth seed Vasek Pospisil (#44) of Canada all looking to start strong campaigns against their lower ranked opponents.
Having dropped to just outside the top 100 and the end of last year, consistent performances by Troicki this season have seen him break into the Top 20 for the first time since November 2011 (he was ranked No.19 in August).
The 29-year-old Serbian, who reached the finals of the Mercedes Cup and semis of the Aegon Championships in June, will face off against Moldovan Radu Albot (#84), who is fresh off an early exit at St. Petersburg to eventual finalist Joao Sousa, who arrives in KL shortly.
Meanwhile, 28-year-old Chardy, who reached the 4th Round of the US Open with a victory over David Ferrer earlier this month, could breach his career high ranking of No.25 should he put in a good showing at Kuala Lumpur (currently at No.26).
His opponent tomorrow will be 18-year-old rising star Alexander Zverev – At 6’6”, the German is one of the most exciting future prospects on Tour and last year was the first 17-year-old to finish the year inside the top 150 for more than a decade.
He showed a glimpse of his potential with a strong run to the quarterfinals in the recent Citi Open 500, beating notable names like Kevin Anderson and Alexandr Dolgopolov along the way.
In the day’s fourth match on Centre Court, eighth seeded Canadian Pospisil (#44) will fancy his chances tomorrow when he takes on qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama, who makes his first ever appearance in the main draw of a Tour level tournament.
Tomorrow’s final match will see wild card entry Nicolas Almagro of Spain face off against Marcos Baghdatis in what should be a closely contested encounter between two 30-year-old players who are returning to form after struggling with injuries.
Baghdatis has pulled out of five matches due to injury over the last 18 months (three this year) but the Cypriot, who is making his fifth appearance here in Kuala Lumpur, also advanced to the finals of the Atlanta Open in July and reached the semifinals of two other ATP 250 tournaments this year to enter tomorrow’s match as the higher ranked player at No.51.
Almagro missed half of 2014 due to a foot injury and saw his ranking fall more than 150 spots to No.174 (May this year), but has reached the quarters or better at five other events so far in 2015 to bounce back up to No.76 and warrant his wild card entry into the Malaysian Open.
Two first round ties in the doubles will also be played tomorrow, with top seeded duo Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Rajeev Ram of the USA commencing their campaign against the Aussie wild card pairing of Nick Kyrgios and his long time hitting partner James Frawley.
Off the court today, top seeds David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez took time out to visit the pediatric ward of the KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital to visit and talk about health and fitness with patients and hospital staff. The duo also entertained the crowd by playing a game of mini-tennis with doctors.
At the stadium, Mikhail Kukushkin and Aleksandr Nedovyesov were present for autograph sessions held in the afternoon at the stadium entrance.
Once again the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur is making the event affordable for all Malaysians. Entry from Saturday 26 September to Tuesday 29 September is free. Thereafter tickets will be between RM10 to RM620.
Tickets can be purchased now on-line via the tournament website www.MalaysianOpenTennis.com, at TicketCharge outlets or through the ticket hotline at TicketCharge