ATP Tour

Sousa bags maiden ATP title

Joao Sousa (AFP)
Joao Sousa (AFP)

Kuala Lumpur - Portugal's unseeded Joao Sousa defeated fifth seed Julien Benneteau of France 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the the Malaysian Open final on Sunday for his first career title.

Sousa, 24, who was supposed to play in the qualifying rounds, received an exemption from the organisers as he had qualified for the semi-finals in St Petersburg last week and could not arrive in Kuala Lumpur on time to play in the qualifiers.

The win also means world No 77 Sousa has become the first player from his country to win an ATP Tour title.

Sousa is the seventh player to win a maiden title this season. The others include Bernard Tomic (Sydney), Horacio Zeballos (Vina del Mar), and Lukas Rosol (Bucharest).

It was a remarkable turnaround by Sousa, who was visibly nervous in the opening set, losing his serve in the fourth and eight games to drop it in 36 minutes.

Although his service did not improve much in the second, Sousa, who claimed his first top 10 scalp when he defeated world number four David Ferrer in Friday's quarter-finals, did enough to hold off Benneteau, including saving the championship ball in the second set to claim a come-from-behind 7-5 win to level the match.

Failing to convert the break point for victory clearly affected the Frenchman, while Sousa grew in confidence. He opened the deciding set by easily breaking Benneteau and never looked back.

For the 31-year-old Benneteau, it was the second consecutive year he has lost in the final in Malaysia.

He is still searching for his first career singles title after reaching nine finals - matching compatriot Cedric Pioline, who only won his first title in his 10th final.

Sousa earned US$158 000 and 250 Emirates ATP ranking points, with the runner-up picking up US$83 240 and 150 points.

In the doubles final, American Eric Butorac secured his second Malaysian Open crown when he and his new partner, South African Raven Klaasen, defeated the Uruguayan-Argentinian pairing of Pablo Cuevas and Horacio Zeballos - who were semi-finalists at the French Open - 6-2, 6-4 in just 56 minutes.

Butorac first won a title in Bangkok in 2011 with Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer.

The champions won US$48 000 and the runners-up US$25 200.

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