New talent at Portuguese Open

news: New talent at Portuguese Open

THE PORTUGUESE Open, a traditional testing ground for the upcoming French Open Grand Slam event, is not for everyone. Emerging talent and clay court specialists often converge here at this early stage of the season and the 2005 edition was no different.

In the women’s competition, the usual Russian Armada was replaced by two Chinese girls, serving notice of their country’s emergence in ladies tennis while Italian, Flavia Pennetta and Holland-based, Dianara Safina were seeded one and two. Penetta exited in Round One and Safarova seemed to be taking advantage of her rival’s early demise by cruising into the semi-finals without dropping a set. She then came up against China’s Na Li, who despatched her 6-1, 6-1. Marat Safin’s sister was so furious that she sacked her coach, Swede Lars Wahlgren, on the spot.

The other Chinese newcomer, Zheng Jie, made it to the quarter-finals before losing out 6-2, 6-1 to No. 3 seed Gisela Dulko who in turn succumbed 6-7, 0-6 to Czech qualifier Lucie Safarova. The 18-year-old went on to become the first qualifier to claim the title surprising Na Li 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 in 2 hours and 17 minutes. The only words the vanquished Chinese finalist could utter in English after the match was “prize money”.

The men’s draw featured Carlos Moya at No. 1 with last year’s French Open champion Gaston Gaudio seeded 2, Swede Joachim Johansson 3 and Tommy Ribredo and Nicolas Massu 4 and 5. Defending champion, Juan Ignacio Chela, was only given a No. 9 seeding and promptly went out to surprise package Juan Antonio Marin from Costa Rica in his opening match. The qualifier made it into the quarter finals where he lost out to Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in three sets, who had earlier accounted for Johansson. Massu lost to Alberto Costa before finding his stride but Moya was cruising through the field before a shoulder injury forced him to concede his semi-final to Tommy Ribredo with the score 6-3, 3-0 in the younger man’s favour. Gaston Gaudia provided the opposition in Sunday’s final, the Argentinian having looked less than convincing against some mediocre opposition in previous rounds. Gaudio completed his Roland Garros preparation with an easy 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 demolition of his Spanish opponent who, the second set apart, never looked to be in the match.

Top seeds Moya and Flavia Pennetta also provided gossip columnists with plenty of material during the week. The 28-year-old Spanish sex symbol was seen almost exclusively in the company of the pretty Italian, 23, who later admitted to the blossoming romance.