Estoril stars

Portugal’s only top class tennis tournament, the ATP World Tour 250 Estoril Open, got under way at the Jamor sports complex at the beginning of this week.

The men’s draw is dominated by the presence of last year’s champion and world No11 Juan Martin del Potro, who must be a strong favourite to repeat his 2011 triumph here in view of the injury-related absence of Gael Monfils and formerly top-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero.

But there are plenty of potential challengers to the powerful Argentine such as talented second seed Richard Gasquet, Swiss Davis Cup player Stanislas Wawrinka, fast-improving Russian Denis Istomin or ultra consistent Dutchman Robin Haase, not forgetting dual Estoril winner Albert Montanes from Spain.

Home support will be behind the Algarve’s Rui Machado, who has recovered from his persistent wrist injury and kicked off his campaign with a win against local wild card entry Pedro Sousa – the 27-year-old from Faro will have to be at his best, however, if he is to progress past the second round where Del Potro is waiting.

Portuguese No2 Frederico Gil, who reached the last 16 in Barcelona the previous week, could have enjoyed a slightly easier passage but Germany’s Bjorn Phau proved no push-over in the opening round and eliminated the crowd favourite in straight sets.

The ladies field does not feature many household names but former world No3 Nadia Petrova seeded seven here must be a title contender following her easy opening 6-0, 6-1 win over Portuguese wild card Barbara Luz.

She should be on target for a quarter-final clash with Italian top seed Roberta Vinci who struggled to overcome Nina Bratchkova, who is soon to take up Portuguese nationality, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in round one.

British interest at the start will have focus around Elena Baltacha who lost 7-6, 6-1 to No2 seed Maria Kirilenko in her opening match and surprise qualifier Heather Watson who may have a better chance of progressing after dispatching unseeded Czech Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 6-4.

Most of the show court games are being transmitted live by Portuguese television throughout the week with the finals scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday weather permitting.