French ‘Magician’ beats De Voest to take Soweto Open title

2009-04-19 00:00

TOP seed and world number 50 Fabrice Santoro of France won the City of Johannesburg Soweto Men’s Open 7-5 6-4 against the unseeded Rik de Voest of South Africa at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex yesterday.

“Santoro’s return of serve was really good today and he often won my first service point, which always put me under pressure,” De Voest said afterwards of the man nicknamed the Magician for his vast arsenal of trick shots.

Santoro failed to attend the immediate post-final press conference as he was unable to deliver a urine sample to the ATP official after a final played in hot, steamy conditions, but said on court after receiving the trophy that his decision to come to Soweto had been a good one.

“I am due to retire at the end of this year and I have never been to South Africa or Soweto, so this tournament was a must, and I have had a wonderful week and final against a worthy opponent in Rik,” he said.

The tournament is due to be continued over the next two years in what is a resounding vote of confidence for an event that included a final played in a fantastic atmosphere yesterday, with many Soweto children and parents attending.

De Voest, ranked 180th in the world, tried with all his might to wrest this inaugural ATP Challenger tournament in Soweto away from the fabled Frenchman, who has the scalps of 17 world number ones notched on his racket, but it was not to be.

Santoro broke De Voest in the fourth and 12th games to take the first set 7-5. However, the 36-year-old, who added R150 000 to his R100 million in career prize-money earned in 20 years on the ATP Tour, endured a horror first game of the match when De Voest played superbly to break serve. And it was a tribute to his temperament that he was able to brush the setback aside and eventually wrest the advantage away from the popular South African.

The second set went with serve until De Voest served to stay in the set and match at 5-6, but his stomach had begun to cramp due to a virus, he said later, and Santoro had two match points already in his back pocket before a pinpoint backhand down the line gave him the title 7-5 6-4.

Apart from the specially designed trophy by SA sculptor Des Khourie, there were 100 ATP world rankings points for the singles winner and 60 points for the finalist, plus $14 400 for the inaugural champion and $8 480 for the loser.

On Saturday, the semi-finals were relatively comfortable hurdles for yesterday’s finalists to negotiate, with Santoro accounting for fourth seed Thiago Alves 6-3 7-6 (7/2) and De Voest repelling the daunting challenge of fellow unseeded player and dynamite server Fritz Wolmarans, who is also from South Africa.

The doubles winners picked up $6 200 and the same number of rankings points (100) as in singles, with the finalists taking away $3 600 and 60 points.

Millions of rands have been poured into the tournament by the City of Johannesburg and it is doing the same for the WTA Soweto Women’s Open from April 27 to May 3.

RESULTS: Singles final: 1-Fabrice Santoro (FRA) bt Rik de Voest (RSA) 7-5 6-4.

Doubles final: George Bastl (SUI)/Chris Guccione (AUS) bt 2-Michail Elgin (RUS)/Alexandre Kudryavtsev (RUS) 6-2 4-6 11-9.

• Jonathan Cook will be at next week’s Soweto Women’s Open.

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