The third week of September sees the ATP Tour begin its Asian swing, and one of the most popular stops for players is the Malaysian Open, a 250 series tournament held in Kuala Lumpur.
Men’s tennis had a brief foothold in Malaysia in the mid-1990s, when the Kuala Lumpur Open was played from 1993 - 1995. No major tournament was staged there again until 2009, when the Malaysian government officially launched a new top-level indoor competition.
The Putra Indoor Stadium seats up to 7000 spectators during the Malaysian Open, and many more when it is used for other sporting events, such as wrestling and badminton. The Malaysian Ministry of Tourism is heavily involved in the event’s marketing and promotion.
There have been four different winners in Kuala Lumpur since the inaugural tournament in 2009. Nikolay Davydenko was the first man to lift the trophy, and he was emulated by compatriot Mikhail Youzhny the following year. In 2011, Janko Tipsarevic won the very first title of his career at the Malaysian Open, and Juan Monaco of Argentina was the champion in 2012.
Many other famous names have competed in Kuala Lumpur without making the final, including Gael Monfils, Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt, Tomas Berdych, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer.
Monaco def. Nishikori, 2012 semi-finals:
The second and third seeds met at the last-four stage of the 2012 Malaysian Open, and played one of the most gruelling and entertaining three-set matches of the year. Juan Monaco hadn’t dropped a set all week in Kuala Lumpur, while Kei Nishikori was searching for the second title of his career.
The Argentine had the upper hand in the opening set, playing more steadily from the back of the court. He broke the Nishikori serve in the very first game, and secured another break later on in the set to take it 6-2. But the match was much closer than the scoreline suggested, as many rallies lasted well over ten shots and several games went to deuce.
Nishikori’s phenomenal defensive skills began to rattle Monaco in the second set, and the Japanese player broke serve to move ahead 3-1. Monaco hit straight back, but Nishikori maintained focus and gradually wore down his more experienced opponent with sharp angles and clever net approaches. He won the second set 6-2, and carried the momentum into the decider. After breaking Monaco again to open up a 5-2 lead, and held his first match point at 5-3, 40-30.
But when yet another long rally ended with Nishikori going long, Monaco sensed his chance. He eliminated the unforced errors, kept the pressure on his opponent, and won three games in a row. Nishikori recovered to take another lead at 6-5, but a couple of clutch volleys from Monaco in the next game helped him hold serve and force a final set tie-break.
As the match neared its conclusion after more than two and a half hours of intense play, Monaco hit a series of precision groundstrokes to move an exhausted Nishikori all around the court. When the third seed’s final backhand tamely hit the net, Monaco had completed one of the best comeback wins of his life. He went on to win the title the very next day, beating Julien Benneteau in another three-set tussle.
Video: Monaco v Nishikori, 2012
- Britain’s Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins came within points of winning the doubles title in 2012, but lost a final set tie-break to Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares.
- The top four seeds at the Malaysian Open receive an automatic bye into the second round.