UNDEFEATED IN ROUND ROBIN PLAY, MOYA AND EL AYNAOUI TO
FACE OFF IN 2011 CHENGDU OPEN FINALS
2009 Chengdu Open Champion Enqvist to Battle Sampras in the Playoff for Third Place
Spaniard Carlos Moya and Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui will face off in the finals of the 2011 Chengdu Open, after both tore through round robin play to advance to the finals undefeated.
On the third day of play, ATP Champions Tour No. 2 Moya took on No. 3 Thomas Enqvist, who he defeated in Sao Paulo in May, 7-6(0), 6-3. In Chengdu, Moya again emerged the victor, 6-4, 6-4. Both players displayed their athleticism, crisscrossing the court in all dimensions with sharply angled forehands, slice backhands and arcing lobs, but Moya got the breaks he needed to edge Enqvist.
“It was a very close match,” Moya said. “I was lucky to win those few key points. You get these points and you have the chance to win the match.”
“Today I lost against a better player,” said Enqvist. “That’s how it is.”
Moya, who won 44 career singles titles on the ATP Tour, is also the 1998 Roland Garros champion, and 1997 US Open runner-up to Pete Sampras. He won three Masters Series events and was a finalist at three others, and reached the No. 1 ranking in 1999.
Moya is also well known for paving the way for another famous fellow Majorcan, Rafael Nadal. Nadal’s uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, credits Moya for opening a new era for Spanish tennis: “He played very well on hard courts when it seemed impossible to do for a Spanish player. He changed a bit of the mentality of the game, showing that Spain could be good not only on clay, but also on hard surfaces.”
Moya is looking to capture his third ATP Champions Tour title in four attempts, having won the titles in Sao Paulo and Knokke-Heist earlier this year after making the finals in Bogota. Moya will claim the ATP Champions Tour South African Airways No. 1 Ranking regardless of whether he wins or loses in the final—having entered the tournament just 100 points behind the reigning No. 1, Mark Philippoussis, Moya can garner 400 points with a first place finish, and 300 points if he comes in second. With a 6-3 , 6-1 win over Paradorn Srichaphan in the final day of round robin play, Philippoussis will receive 80 points.
Moya, however, is not content with this accomplishment, instead focusing on finishing the year as No. 1. “It’s pretty good: my first year [on the ATP Champions Tour] and having the chance to end as No. 1,” said Moya. “I’m having fun out there, playing those familiar faces that I used to play ten years ago, and it’s a great feeling. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow. There are still two tournaments left to go and many points out left there, so anything can happen.”
El Aynaoui defeated Ferreira 7-6(6), 6-1 to post three wins in round robin play. Though Ferreira played his best tennis of the tournament in the first set, he literally couldn’t catch a break. He held three set points in the tiebreaker, including one on his own serve at 6-5, but he double-faulted to let El Aynaoui back in. After a lengthy backhand rally, Ferreira sent a crosscourt forehand sailing long, which El Aynaoui followed by slamming an ace out wide to take the set. Energized by his come-from-behind first set win, El Aynaoui burst out of the gates in the second set just as Ferreira faded. Bounding around the court with the infectious joy and unbridled energy of a puppy, El Aynaoui broke Ferreira twice in the second with fist pumps aplenty.
Indeed, the lanky 40-year old El Aynaoui is the talk of the town, surging into the final after dismantling Sampras, Safin and Ferreira. Notably, El Aynaoui had energy to spare in his three set win over Safin the day before, prompting Safin to comment, “Younes is very fit and he had more gas at the end of the match. He’s in good shape. He moved very well, saved the match point and he was brave when it counted. He was very pumped up.”
El Aynaoui shared, “I still enjoy practicing and I play a lot of tennis still. I do a lot of activities with my kids so I try to keep fit for that. I enjoy running, biking, or whatever. I have to exercise. That’s what keeps me going.”
Moya also noted El Aynaoui’s fitness. “The final will be tough for sure. Younes is playing very well and he beat good players this week. He’s very fit, he’s in good shape, he runs a lot. We have a similar game, we rely on our serve and forehand and try to slice with our backhand, so it’s pretty similar, it will be a few points here and there. Whoever wins these key points will win the match.”
El Aynaoui, a five-time ATP Tour titlist is an iconic figure in Morocco whose fame transcends the sports arena. In 2003, he was named by readers of the leading Moroccan newspaper L’Economiste as their favorite role model for society—ahead of their prime minister. In tennis circles, he is renowned for his role in the classic 2003 Australian Open quarterfinal against Andy Roddick. El Aynaoui set up the clash with Roddick (who would reach the World No. 1 ranking later that year) by defeating then World No. 1, Lleyton Hewitt, in the fourth round, and then battled Roddick in a five-set, five-hour thriller. The 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 epic broke the record for the longest fifth set in Grand Slam tennis history (only just broken in 2010 by the Isner-Mahut Wimbledon marathon) and is remembered as one of the best matches of the decade. Though Roddick came out on top, both players sustained a stunning quality of play throughout.
El Aynaoui is tickled about his dream run to the final in Chengdu. “I’m very pleased with the way I’m playing, especially beating Pete and Marat back to back, so it’s really fun for me to be in the final. Coming here, I was really excited. I knew I had to play [Pete], so I was thinking about it a few weeks before the tournament. Not only [did] I play him, but I beat him!” he said with a laugh. “[Pete and I] are the same age, so we played together, [but] he was way up there—I was watching him play on TV in the finals every time—I never [got to] play him!”
Indeed, Sampras reminded fans of his legacy as he served and volleyed into the playoff for third place, defeating Safin 6-1, 6-7(6), 10-8 in front of a record crowd. Sampras came out guns blazing. In the first set in particular, Sampras couldn’t miss and Safin couldn’t compete.
“I don’t know where my forehand went,” said Safin. “It disappeared completely.” Despite the humbling experience, for Safin playing with Sampras “is a pleasure and a challenge. When I look at him I still see the same guy I saw on TV when I was growing up. I treat him with a lot of respect.”
2009 Chengdu Open champion and 2010 third-place finisher Enqvist also looks forward to playing Sampras in the playoff for third place, noting that he will have the opportunity to “play one of the legends, one of the best players who ever played. Every time you step on the court with Pete, it’s an honor.”
In a rare treat for doubles fans, Safin and Srichaphan will take on Ferreira, an Olympic doubles silver medalist, and his partner Philippoussis, in a 45-minute or one-set doubles match (whichever is shorter) to open play at 2pm on Sunday October 30th. The playoff for third place between Enqvist and Sampras will begin not before 2:45pm, with the final between Moya and El Aynaoui to start not before 4pm.
The 2011 Chengdu Open is being broadcast on CCTV 5 and is part of the historic CCTV-IMG Sports Management Company venture, which is a 20-year exclusive joint venture formed by IMG Worldwide, Inc., the global sports and entertainment company, and China Central Television (CCTV), the world's largest television broadcaster. For ticket information and the complete tournament schedule, visit the Chengdu Open website at: http://chengduchampions.com/2011/