Malisse Claims First ATP Title
After six previous appearances in an ATP final, third seed Xavier Malisse claimed his first career title after defeating second seed Jiri Novak in straight sets to capture the 2005 Millennium International Tennis Championship in Delray Beach.
In what was his third appearance in the Delray Beach final from six appearances in the tournament, Malisse finally made the breakthrough with a 7-6(6) 6-2 victory, just his second against Novak in six meetings. Malisse lost the first final of his career against Novak in Mexico City on clay in 1998.
In the Delray Beach final, it was Novak who made the better start, breaking the Belgian in the fourth game of the match. Malisse then answered with a break in the ninth game, as Novak lost his serve for the first time since his first round victory over Amer Delic. Malisse then stormed to a 4-1 lead in the first set tie-break before eventually taking it 8-6. In the second set, Novak was broken after he double faulted away the fourth game of the set, and Malisse then claimed the title with his third break of the match.
The only player to have lost more finals before eventually claiming his first was Cedric Pioline, who lost his first nine finals before winning in Copenhagen in 1996.
It also marked some consolation for his two runner-up finishes in Delray Beach. In 1999, Malisse lost to Lleyton Hewitt 6-4 6-7(2) 6-1. Both players were 18 years old in that match, marking the last time in the ATP that two teenagers played for an ATP title. Then in 2001, he lost to Jan-Michael Gambill 7-5 6-4 in the final.
En route to this year's final, Malisse defeated Jeff Morrison, Juan-Pablo Guzman, Ramon Delgado and top seed Vincent Spadea 7-5 6-4 in the semifinals. After claiming the title, Malisse now has a tournament-best 16-5 win-loss record in his six appearances in Delray Beach. His victory also marked the second consecutive year that the champion was a first-time winner on the ATP circuit, following Ricardo Mello's victory last year. Two other players earned their first career title at this tournament, Andrew Ilie in 1998 and Todd Martin in 1993.
The 23-year-old Malisse also became the first player to claim a singles and doubles title in 2005. He teamed with countryman Olivier Rochus to defeat Simon Aspelin and Todd Perry for the title in Adelaide in the season-opener.
Novak, who was making his first appearance in Delray Beach and his first appearance on the 2005 ATP circuit, was playing in his 13 th career ATP final. He did not drop a set until the final. He opened the tournament with a 6-4 6-3 win over American Amer Delic. He breezed past
In the doubles, top seeds Simon Aspelin and Todd Perry captured their first career title together while playing in their third final of 2005 after they defeated Jordan Kerr and Jim Thomas 6-3, 6-3. Aspelin and Perry were finalists in Adelaide and Auckland earlier this year. It is Aspelin's fourth career ATP doubles title and the second for Perry.
WHAT THE PLAYERS SAID:
Malisse: “It feels awesome. It is a feeling that I've never felt--seeing that last ball go out and getting the monkey off my back.
“It was a feeling of disbelief because you can't believe it happened. It's been a long time in coming.
“When I went on the court today it didn't matter if I had 15 titles, it's what I do today that counts. Fortunately today was the day.”
On being down in the first set: “Everyone always gets chances. I told myself to keep holding my serve and that chances would come. I got away with the first set but that's how sports goes. It's not over until you get the last point.”
Novak: “I thought the first set was the key of the match. I had the lead, I was in control. He was just better in the second set.
“I'm disappointed I just lost the final, but I'm very happy to have reached the final.”