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Chela To Meet Nadal; Cilic Advances

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Andreas Seppi In Action© AFP/Getty ImagesAndreas Seppi In Action

Four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal will begin his 2009 European clay-court campaign Wednesday at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters against Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, who fought back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to beat Igor Kunitsyn of Russia 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 in two hours and 23 minutes on Monday.

ATP World Tour Champion Nadal has a 4-1 career lead over Chela, who returned to the ATP World Tour circuit in February after recovering from a herniated disc injury. The 29-year-old Chela, currently ranked No. 167 in the South African Airways ATP 2009 Rankings, saved 11 of 17 break points to wrap up his seventh win of the year.

Andreas Seppi (pictured) will look to snap a four-match losing streak against three-time runner-up Roger Federer in the Swiss superstar’s first match as a married man on Wednesday.

Seppi, who went close to beating Federer in two tie-break sets during the 2007 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, crushed Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-2, 6-0 in just 63 minutes to the delight of Italian supporters, who travelled the eight kilometres from the Italian border to the Monte-Carlo Country Club.

Seppi, who has a 6-9 record this year, will now look to win back-to-back tour-level matches for the first time since reaching the US Open third round (l. to Roddick) in September 2008. This week Federer, a late wild card entry to the first clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament of the season, is looking to win his first ATP World Tour title since October 2008 at Basel (d. Nalbandian).

Croatian No. 14 seed Marin Cilic, a rising young star on the ATP World Tour with two titles to his name this season, advanced safely to the second round after beating qualifier Flavio Cipolla of Italy 6-3, 6-2.

Cilic, the youngest player in the tournament, improved to 19-4 on the season. The 20-year-old hit four aces past Cipolla, who saved 11 of 18 break points, in the pair’s first tour-level meeting that lasted 84 minutes on Court Central. Cilic won 56 per cent of service points and will next meet either Czech Tomas Berdych or another Italian qualifier Fabio Fognini, who play on Tuesday.

There was mixed fortunes for French supporters on Monday.

Former World No. 14 Juan Monaco of Argentina defeated No. 43-ranked Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 7-5 in one hour and 40 minutes. Chardy, who reached his maiden ATP World Tour final at Johannesburg (l. to Tsonga) in February, was one of seven Frenchmen in the first-round draw and falls to 13-10 on the season. He joined Julien Benneteau as a French casualty on day two.

Buenos Aires runner-up Monaco will next attempt to reach the third round of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament for the seventh time in his career with victory over No. 11 seed Tommy Robredo of Spain. Monaco improved to 10-7 this year. In 2007, Monaco went 28-8 on clay-courts (second-most wins behind Nadal’s 31).

It was a different story for 32-year-old Marc Gicquel, who edged past Argentine Eduardo Schwank 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(2) in two hours and 24 minutes. Gicquel, a two-time ATP World Tour quarter-finalist at Rotterdam (l. to Murray) and Casablanca (l. to Andreev) this season, will next face a Spaniard in either Feliciano Lopez or No. 10 seed David Ferrer. World No. 53 Schwank dropped to 2-7 on the year.

German qualifier Andreas Beck recorded a debut win at his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament on Court 2.

Beck, currently No. 89 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, improved to 10-14 lifetime at tour-level with a gutsy 1-6, 7-6(1), 6-4 victory over his experienced compatriot and former World No. 4 Nicolas Kiefer in two-and-a-half hours. Beck’s reward is a second round meeting on Court Central Tuesday with sixth-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon.

Romanian Victor Hanescu, who captured his maiden ATP World Tour title at Gstaad (d. Andreev) in July 2008, brushed past Spanish qualifier Alberto Martin 6-2, 6-3 in 77 minutes with five service breaks to set-up a meeting with fourth-seeded Scot Andy Murray. It will be the pair’s first meeting.

World No. 35 Hanescu improved to 7-10 on the season and will need to be on top form against Murray, who lifted his third ATP World Tour title of the year at Miami (d. Djokovic) eight days ago and has once again employed two-time former Roland Garros runner-up Alex Corretja as a consultant during the European clay-court swing. 

France’s Julien Benneteau made his fourth first-round exit in six appearances at the Monte-Carlo Country Club on Monday. The World No. 47 lost to Spanish qualifier Oscar Hernandez for the first time in three meetings, in a 6-4, 6-4 loss over one hour and 40 minutes.

“I have the weapons to beat that type of player,” lamented Benneteau. “The score was 6-4, 6-4, but the match lasted a long time. Every point was very tight. I need to find my rhythm on this type of surface.

Hernandez, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Friday, improved to 4-10 on the 2009 ATP World Tour season. It was just his fifth career win at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament. The World No. 65 next meets third seed Novak Djokovic on Tuesday.

Wild card and former World No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic rallied from a 1-4 third set deficit to beat Belgian qualifier Kristof Vliegen 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4, in two hours and 30 minutes. The 30-year-old Croat converted five of 12 break points while losing his serve three times.

Ecuadorian qualifier Nicolas Lapentti overcame No. 15 seed Radek Stepanek 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in the final match of the day. World No. 98 Lapentti recorded his first win over Stepanek in four meetings and avenged his defeat to Stepanek in the Australian Open first round in January. It was Lapentti’s third win in eight appearances in Monte-Carlo.

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