The Portugal Open takes place at the end of April, just a few weeks before the French Open. The only top-level event to be held in the country, and one of only four combined events on the European clay court swing, it is part of the ATP 250 and WTA International series of tournaments.
The Portugal Open made its debut on the ATP Tour in 1990. Held in one of the most picturesque areas of Portugal, the event immediately became a prime warm-up tournament for players hoping to fine-tune their clay court games prior to the second Grand Slam of the year. A women’s event was held in 1989 and 1990, but it took an extended hiatus before returning to the WTA Tour in 1998.
The venue for the competition is the Estoril Court Central, which was built in 2005 and seats up to 10,000 spectators. Despite formerly being known as the "Estoril Open", it is actually located in Oeiras, one of the most populous towns in Portugal.
The roll of honour of men’s champions in Portugal is dominated by players from Spain and Argentina, who account for all but six titles as of 2012. Five men share the record for most wins: Carlos Costa, Thomas Muster, David Nalbandian, Albert Montanes and Juan Martin Del Potro have each lifted the Portugal Open trophy on two occasions.
Many other famous names have graced the courts of the Estoril Court Central, including several French Open champions. Sergi Bruguera won the second Estoril Open in 1991, while Albert Costa, Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero were victorious at the turn of the century. Novak Djokovic secured the second clay court title of his career in Portugal in 2007; a year later, it was arch-rival Roger Federer who walked away with the silverware.
No nation has been quite as dominant on the women’s side, and only one woman has won the Portugal Open more than once: Magui Serna. Among the WTA stars to play the event over the years are former French Open champions Li Na, Justine Henin and Francesca Schiavone. Victoria Azarenka made her very first WTA final in Estoril in 2007.
Montanes def. Gil, 2010 final:
Albert Montanes, the 2009 Estoril Open Champion, was not favoured to defend his title the following year. Facing top seeded Roger Federer in the semi-finals, few gave the Spaniard much chance of unseating one of the most consistent of the all-time greats. But Montanes dominated the opening set, out-rallying Federer and proving the stronger player from the back of the court. He held on in a much closer second set to take it on a tie-break and complete one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history.
The final, however, would be even more memorable for Montanes. He took on Federico Gil, the first Portuguese man ever to reach the Estoril Open showpiece match. Montanes picked up where he left off against Federer by racing through the first set, and at 5-3 in the second and holding two match points, he looked set for a routine victory.
But Gil, roared on by the home crowd, stood firm, and pushed the second set to a tie-break, which he won convincingly. Having seized the momentum, Gil produced some superb shots at the beginning of the decider to open up a double break lead. Yet he failed to maintain that high level of play, and a series of inopportune errors allowed his opponent to mount a comeback.
As the match neared its conclusion, Montanes’ greater experience became evident. He pressured Gil into making further mistakes, and eventually secured his second consecutive Estoril Open title when the Portuguese's final backhand hit the net. The 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 contest lasted over two and a half hours, and was one of the most memorable matches ever played at the Court Central.
Video: Montanes v Gil, 2010
Kanepi def. Suarez Navarro, 2012 final:
Estonia’s Kai Kanepi had beaten top seed Roberta Vinci on her way to the 2012 Estoril Open final, but looked to have run out of steam in the title match against Carla Suarez Navarro. The Spaniard, a famously tenacious counter-puncher, won the first set and held a 5-3 lead in the second. Kanepi came back to force a tie-break, but her opponent once again raced ahead, and earned two match points.
Again, Kanepi erased the deficit, and took the breaker by eight points to six. Any expectations that she may have run away with the decider were soon tempered, however, as Navarro once more took control and broke to lead 4-2. Yet as the rallies became more gruelling, it was Kanepi who proved stronger in the closing stages. Reducing her unforced errors and choosing the right times to hit her powerful groundstrokes with full force, she won four games in a row to complete a 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory in two hours, 37 minutes.
Video: Kanepi v Navarro, 2012
- Only two Americans have ever made the final in Portugal: Todd Martin in 1999, and James Blake in 2009.
- The 2006 final between Zheng Jie and Li Na was the first all-Chinese final in the history of the WTA.
- All previous winners of the men’s Estoril Open have been ranked inside the top ten, apart from Albert Montanes, champion in 2009 and 2010, and Juan Ignacio Chela, who won in 2004.