Championson the court

The 10th anniversary edition of the Vale de Lobo Grand Champions Caixa Geral de Depósitos tournament got under way on Tuesday evening with Portugal’s only representative, Nuno Marques, giving his all against Swedish senior tour No1 and VDL debutant Thomas Enqvist before losing out 4-6, 6-3,10-3 (champions tie-break).

That encounter was followed by fellow Algarve newcomer Yevgeny Kafelnikov’s supposedly gentle introduction against former Davis Cup player and 2001 inaugural VDL champion Jeremy Bates. The once powerful Russian was surprised by the gritty Brit, however, going down 6-4, 3-6, 5-10.

Compatriot Greg Rusedski took to the court with Henri Leconte to begin his current title defence subsequently and encountered few problems in beating the Frenchman 6-3, 6-2.

The last game of the evening had one-time Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic facing ex-world No1 Thomas Muster during which the Croat was expected to lay down his credentials for reaching today’s (Friday) 10.30pm final – but the Austrian had other plans. Muster, who intends to return to the main tour “just for fun”, showed all his old combative qualities in recording a straight sets 6-3, 6-4 victory over his big-serving opponent.

Today’s (Friday’s) tournament climax is preceded first by an exhibition doubles (6pm) featuring Portugal’s Paulo Espirito Santo as one of two top class wheelchair players respectively partnered by one of the Grand Champions competitors eliminated during the round-robin phase and then the third-fourth place play-off proper scheduled for 9pm.

Henri Leconte for one, knocking up with local 19-year-old talent Kevin Belhaj, was more than enthusiastic about the tournament’s innovative retro-look: “I must admit that I remember those days with a sense of nostalgia,” the Frenchman said regarding the ‘all-white’ dress code and corresponding white tennis balls in use for the first time since 1985.

It is hoped that the feature will even further enhance the enjoyment for spectators of which is without doubt one of the highlights of the Algarve’s annual sporting calendar.