Making his first ever appearance at a BlackRock Tour of Champions event, Pat Rafter raced to an impressive opening victory, beating Cedric Pioline 6-4, 6-2 earlier today in Graz, Austria.
Rafter, who retired from professional tennis in 2003, took little time to settle into the Austrian clay courts, breaking Pioline in the opening game of the match. From then on the Australian held serve with ease and comfortably took the opener 6-4. The second set was an equally straightforward affair for Rafter, who dominated Pioline with the sharp volleys and soft hands that won him the 1997 and 1998 US Open titles. After racing to a 5-1 second-set lead, Rafter had opportunities to win the match on Piolines serve but the Frenchman held serve to force Rafter to serve out the match, which he did to love.
Overall, the returning Australian was happy with his performance.
Im a little bit surprised!” he said.
The ball felt really good off my racket and I served and returned well. I moved okay and the ball went where I wanted it to go so it was really nice.”
But, he admitted that he did feel some ring-rust after so long away from the sport.
“When it gets into tight situations you can forget what the correct play is,” he said.
“There can be two or three points turning a match and if you dont win those points sometimes you can lose those matches. I think that is probably the biggest thing. Im staying fit back home doing a lot of fitness work. Ive done a lot of running so my legs are ok. My heart is ok, Im feeling strong. But I will see how much fun it is when I wake up tomorrow – I think Im going to be sore!”
So, what were his first impressions of life on the BlackRock Tour of Champions?
“Its interesting,” he said.
“You want to put a good show on but people havent come to watch you stuff around. I think you have to play hard, do your best, and every now and then have a fun point. But you leave the jokes up to people like (Henri) Leconte, who are very funny naturally. Playing (Thomas) Muster will be a fun match because we will both go really hard at each other and run for everything. A lot of the guys are good friends so seeing them is fun! Im looking forward to catching up with Goran (Ivanisevic) when I see him.
Rafters next opponent is BlackRock Tour of Champions stalwart Leconte.
RIOS RUNS OUT OF RACQUETS JUST LIKE GORAN
Eight years ago, Goran Ivanisevic retired from a match in Brighton, England because he had smashed all of his racquets in anger. In Graz, Austria today, a similar fate nearly afflicted former World No.1 Marcelo Rios.
The Chilean ultimately went down 6-3, 6-4 against Michael Stich, but not before a bizarre turn of events at 4-4 in the second set. The Chilean found himself raquet-less having broken the strings in the two racquets that he had brought onto the court. Rios asked permission to borrow a racquet from his German opponent in order to finish the match. Stich obliged but promptly broke the Rios serve to win the final two games and the set 6-4.
I think I was the better player overall and would have won anyway, said Stich afterwards. But I knew what I was doing when I gave him one of my racquets because I knew he wasnt going to put a ball in court with that racquet!
Stich now tops Group B and in Group A Thomas Muster is sharing the top spot along with Pat Rafter after a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Henri Leconte in the third match of the day.
RESULTS TUESDAY, 29 JULY, 2008
Michael Stich d Marcelo Rios 6-3, 6-4
Patrick Rafter d Cedric Pioline 6-4, 6-2
Thomas Muster d Henri Leconte 6-3, 7-5
LATEST GROUP STANDINGS
Matches won/lost (sets)
Thomas Muster 1-0 (2-0)
Patrick Rafter 1-0 (2-0)
Cedric Pioline 0-1 (0-2)
Henri Leconte 0-1 (0-2)
Matches won/lost (sets)
Michael Stich 1-0 (2-0)
Goran Ivanisevic 0-0 (0-0)
Marc-Kevin Goellner 0-0 (0-0)
Marcelo Rios 0-1 (0-2)
SCHEDULE WEDNESDAY 30 JULY, 2008
14:00 Patrick Rafter vs Henri Leconte
fwd by Thomas Muster vs Cedric Pioline
fwd by Goran Ivanisevic vs Marc-Kevin Goellner
BLACKROCK TOUR OF CHAMPIONS POINTS ALLOCATION
Winner 400 points
Finalist 250 points
3rd place 200 points
4th place 125 points
5/6th place 80 points
7/8th place 60 points
SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS 2008 TOUR OF CHAMPIONS RANKINGS (after six events)
POS. PLAYER PTS
1 Goran Ivanisevic 660
2 Michael Stich 650
2= Marcelo Rios 650
4 Anders Jarryd 525
5 Thomas Muster 515
6 Pat Cash 420
7= Pete Sampras 400
7= Cedric Pioline 400
9 Fernando Meligeni 375
10= Mikael Pernfors 330
10= Marc-Kevin Goellner (WC) 330
12 Henri Leconte 240
13= Chris Wilkinson (WC) 200
13= Jaime Oncins 200
15 Sergi Bruguera 160
16= Jeremy Bates (WC) 125
16= Albert Costa 125
18= Magnus Larsson 80
18= John McEnroe 80
18= Andrei Cherkasov 80
21= Bjorn Borg 60
21= Carl Uwe Steeb 60
21= Jaime Yzaga 60
21= Alladin Karagoz (WC) 60
21= Andrei Chesnokov 60
WC denotes Wild Card.
The BlackRock Tour of Champions Calendar 2008
Belfast, Northern Ireland – February 21-24 (Tennis Legends) – Champions: Anders Jarryd; Runner-up: Mikael Pernfors
Barcelona, Spain – April 24-27 (Champions Cup ’08) – Champion: Marcelo Rios; runner-up: Michael Stich
Rome, Italy – May 10-11 – Champion: Thomas Muster; runner-up: Goran Ivanisevic
Hamburg, Germany – May 14-17 (BlackRock Tennis Classic)
Champion: Michael Stich; Runner-up: Marc-Kevin Goellner
Sao Paulo, Brazil – June 19-22 (Nossa Caixa Grand Champions Brasil)
Champion: Pete Sampras; Runner-up: Marcelo Rios
Istanbul, Turkey – July 17-20
Champion: Goran Ivanisevic; Runner-up: Fernando Meligeni
Graz, Austria – July 29-August 2 (s Tennis Masters)
Algarve, Portugal – August 5-8 (Vale do Lobo Grand Champions CGD)
Paris, France – September 18-21 (5e Trophe Jean-Luc Lagardre)
Luxembourg, Luxembourg – September 25-28
Eindhoven, Netherlands – October 2-5 (AFAS Tennis Classics)
Budapest, Hungary – October 9-12
Frankfurt, Germany – November 13-16 (klarmobil.de Champions Trophy)
Macao, China – November 20 (The Venetian Macao Tennis
London, UK – December 2-7 (BlackRock Masters Tennis)
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