Apia International at Sydney and Heineken Open in Auckland both had their Men’s singles final dominated by qualifiers. In Sydney the final was contested between two qualifiers for the first time in tournament’s history and another qualifier won Heineken Open in New Zealand. The Apia International was won by Serbia’s Viktor Troicki and Heineken Open was taken by rising star Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic. These were the last two ATP250 events before the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open. The Sydney event had special connotations for tennis fans since Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro was making his return to ATP circuit after a 10-month lay-off caused by his wrist injury. After showing promise for the upcoming season, del Potro lost in the quarterfinals to Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. But on the eve of the Australian Open, the Argentine has announced that he won’t be playing at Melbourne. del Potro said that his wrist was still not good enough for the rigors of the upcoming Grand Slam. India’s Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes also figured among winners in Sydney and Auckland. In Sydney, Bopanna and Daniel Nestor took the men’s doubles title while Paes and his new partner Raven Klaasen won the crown at Auckland.
Though del Potro’s return to ATP circuit lasted only two matches before his defeat to Kukushkin in the quarters, he looked solid while he played. Just when everyone thought about his chances in the Australian Open, the Argentine star announced that he won’t be participating. He said that his wrist had not healed completely and he would do well to avoid exposing himself to the hard routine of a Grand Slam tournament. Meanwhile, Sydney Open final featured two qualifiers; Viktor Troicki of Serbia and Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. Kukushkin was the guy, who had stopped del Potro in the quarterfinal and he entered the final by defeating Leonardo Mayer. In the quarterfinal, the world no.66 Kukushkin had to fight hard before beating the wild card del Potro 7-6, 7-6. Viktor Troicki also had to work hard to reach the Apia International final. The Serb had a tough quarterfinal against Simone Bolelli before he came through 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in over two hours. In the semifinal, Troicki’s opponent was world no.45 Gilles Muller but once Muller was accounted for; the Serb had a surprisingly easy final against Kukushkin as he beat the Kazakh 6-2, 6-3. Troicki played well and didn’t face much resistance from Kukushkin throughout the match. The right-handed Serb delivered 13 aces and won 73% of his service points. Of the five break-point opportunities, Troicki converted four as he finished the match in 64 minutes. The 28-year old Troicki became richer by $80,000 and he will face Jiri Vesely in the first round of the Australian Open.
Jiri Vesely was also another qualifier at Heineken Open in Auckland, where he emerged as the eventual champion. Vesely had a good 2014 season after the 21-year old Czech was named as the ATP Star of Tomorrow by Emirates in 2013. He made fantastic progress at Auckland and caused some big upsets on his way to the final. His victims included; world no.13 Ernests Gulbis and world no.16 Kevin Anderson. With his victory, Vesely became one more player in the list of ATP World Tour title winners born in the 1990s. This list has names like; Milos Raonic, 6 times; Grigor Dimitrov, 4 times; David Goffin and Bernard Tomic, 2 times and Federico Delbonis; once. In the semifinal earlier, Vesely fought hard before beating Kevin Anderson 6-4, 7-6. For the title match, Vesely faced Frenchman Adrian Mannarino for the first time. Mannarino reached his first ever ATP World Tour final, when he defeated beat lucky loser and fellow Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in just under two hours. Since Arnaud Clement in 2010, Mannarino was the first Frenchman to reach the final in Auckland. But like Viktor Troicki at Sydney, Vesely had an easy final against Mannarino in his 6-3, 6-2 victory in a match lasting a little over an hour.
In Sydney’s Apia International, the doubles crown was won by India’s Rohan Bopanna, who teamed up with Canada’s Daniel Nestor. The third seeded pair of Bopanna/Nestor beat second seeds Dutchman Jean-Julien Rojer and Romanian Horia Tecau 6-4, 7-6 in 86 minutes. The Indian/Canadian pair converted three of seven break opportunities and won 91% of their first-serve points.
The doubles title at Auckland also featured an Indian. Veteran Leander Paes teamed up with South African Raven Klaasen and the pair defeated Dominic Inglot of England and Florin Mergea of Romania in the final. It was the second time in just two appearances that Indian/South African team has made it to the final. They lost at Chennai Open but didn’t falter at Auckland in beating Inglot/Mergea 7-6, 6-4. Paes/Raven were down a break in the first set but fought back to force the tie-break and thereafter raced to a 5-3 lead in the second before serving out for the title in 74 minutes.