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Aircel Chennai Open 2015 Day 4: Feliciano Lopez bites the dust while Paes and Bhupathi go to war

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3.95K   //    09 Jan 2015, 14:24 IST
No.2 seed Feliciano Lopez (left) was sent packing by qualifier Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia

Day 4 at the 2015 Aircel Chennai Open saw the first major upset in the singles section as one of the top seeds was sent packing, while there were also some amazing doubles matches that kept fans gripped right through. If Wednesday was about the underdogs and upstarts, Thursday was very much about the clear favourites.

Feliciano upset by a qualifier

Playing for the first time in the tournament, and his first competitive match of the year, it all went horribly wrong for Feliciano Lopez, the world no. 14 and second seed here. He was trumped by qualifier Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia, a player ranked 156th in the world whose game packed too much punch for the veteran Spaniard on the day.

Bedene is not an unknown commodity entirely; he’s been here a few times before and two years ago beat Stan Wawrinka (then No. 17 in the world) in the quarters before stretching Janko Tipsarevic (the eventual winner that year) in the semi-finals. Lopez was the most recent scalp added to that list.

After the match, Bedene unsurprisingly said that the win was amongst the most memorable in his career – “Well, I guess, yes. I had a win against Wawrinka (Aircel Chennai Open 2013) once, but this was on centre court so bit special.”

Aljaz Beden is clearly delighted after claiming the scalp of Feliciano Lopez

For Lopez, it was an evening to forget. The stylish left-hander couldn’t quite get to grips with his opponent and possibly the slow hard court that neutralized his serve-and-volley game quite a bit. He cut a frustrated figure, continuously berating himself while expressing his displeasure to his box all the time.

“Nothing was working for me today,” said Lopez.

Lopez’s tactics didn’t pay off at all, as he went to the Bedene backhand too often on his net approaches early in the match and got burnt almost every single time, getting passed or being forced to play a tough volley off the Slovenian’s stronger side.

Once his A-game proved less decisive, Lopez was always going to have trouble keeping up with Bedene from the baseline.

“From baseline also I was not moving well. I will work on that part now. Hopefully I will be ready for the (Australian) Open.”

Starting off on the wrong foot

Earlier in the first match of the day on stadium court, Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, the third seed, progressed to the quarter-finals with a straight sets win over Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk. But the win though was anything but straightforward. The Spaniard was broken once in both the first and second sets and was even called for foot-faults numerous times.

The foot faults turned out to be a source of distraction for him and at one point he was at odds with the chair umpire, remonstrating with him over the calls.

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Roberto Bautista Agut found the running tough in his first singles match of the season

“Yeah, for sure. It affected me and I wasn’t serving as good as I was serving before the calls. But I tried to forget about that, stand little bit farther from the baseline and try not to make another foot fault,” said Bautista Agut when asked about it.

He also mentioned that closing out the second set was tough since he’d not played tennis for so long.

”It’s always tough to start and close the set and close the match and the second set was tough because when you’re not playing matches it’s always difficult to win in such situations”, said the Spaniard.

“Early in the season it is important to play well in the first match. I did as good as I could. I was focused, I put everything on the court, I gave everything. So, I’m just focused now on the tournament and the next match”, added Bautista before signing off.  

Match of the day – for its quality

It was court 1 and not the main stadium court that played host to the match of the day. The game in question was the doubles encounter between the team of Stan Wawrinka and Bautista Agut and the Indo-Canadian pairing of Purav Raja and Adil Shamasdin.

There was a dearth of cheap points in this match with almost every point being won on the merit of superb play from one of the two teams. Be it ball striking from the back, deft volleys or the instinctive interceptions at the net, this match had it all. Raja’s work at the net, in particular, was very impressive, while the Wawrinka/Bautista Agut pair’s work around the baseline and ball retrieval was magnificent to watch. Shamasdin served well and had a stellar game at the net too.

Adil Shamasdin (left) and Purav Raja sign autographs after beating Stan Wawrinka and Roberto Bautista Agut

It was so close that at no point of time could one say which team was in the ascendancy. The match also had a huge turnout which added to the occasion, with the support being split between Wawrinka’s team and the one with the Indian presence.

Raja and Shamasdin were the ones to come through in the end in an absorbing three-set encounter, winning 10-4 in the match tie-break to take the contest.

Match of the day – for its drama 

Taking the cake for providing the best drama of the evening (to no one’s surprise) was the final match on stadium court – the doubles encounter between Leander Paes and Raven Klaasen against Mahesh Bhupathi and Saketh Myneni in a clash of India’s two tennis heavyweights (no pun intended).

You rarely see a febrile atmosphere at a tennis match when there are Indian heroes playing on both sides, but such was the excitement last evening among the crowd that was 70:30 in favour of Paes that Bhupathi and Myneni probably felt like they were in a different country at first.

To everyone’s surprise, it was Bhupathi’s team that ran out to an easy first set win (6-1), considering the fact that they had only managed to scrape through against the inexperienced Sood twins in the previous round. That got the Paes supporters even more vocal, and eventually their team started their fightback in the second set and returned the favour, this time winning 6-1.

Tournament organizers arranged for a special cake in the post match presser to celebrate Leander’s 25th year on tour

Paes then took over in the tie-break with those instinctive movements and quick reflexes that we’ve come to expect of him in tight moments. His cross at 3-3 to intercept and put away a Bhupathi crosscourt was a turning point in the match. Ever the showman, he didn’t hesitate to engage the crowd in the celebrations either.

Paes and Klaasen eventually won 1-6, 6-1, 10-7, much to the joy of the audience.

Klaasen had a bit of an off game, perhaps distracted by the noise levels and the mini-battle within the battle that was going on between his partner and the men on the other side. Myneni was terrific with his power-packed shots, refusing to be just a bystander in this contest of the big names. As Paes pointed out in the post match press conference, the Bhupathi/Myneni pairing came to play and signalled their intentions early.

“They really came out firing on all cylinders. Even in the warmup, we could see, that Saketh was just hitting his backhand so hard, it was like he was sending us a message”, said Paes.

“Paes beat Bhupathi” will probably be the headline on many a channel, but this game was much more than that. The emotions were high and the players did their best to rein them in. The crowd being that much more involved in all of it added to the sense of theatre.

If the Indo-South African pairing meets the Indo-Canadian pair of Raja/Shamasdin in the final, it should make for another exciting encounter, though perhaps not quite matching the levels of drama that this one provided.

Quarter-finals day Friday

Most of the favourites have progressed to the final eight, with Lopez being the only major casualty. Three of the top four seeds, and six of the top eight, are still very much in the tournament. There is much to tune into on Day 5 of the Aircel Chennai Open 2015. 

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