Montanes Ends Gil's Fairytale Run; Defends Estoril Title
by James Buddell|
Spaniard Albert Montanes once again mastered the testing conditions at the Estadio Nacional, venue of the ATP World Tour 250 clay-court tennis tournament, to defend his Estoril Open title on Sunday.
Under overcast skies, on a slow-paced Central Court, the fourth-seed ended the fairytale run of Portuguese No. 2 Frederico Gil with a 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-5 victory in two hour and 34 minutes. Montanes recovered from a 0-3 deficit in the deciding set to record his 10th straight win at the tournament.
The 29-year-old Montanes is the first man to win back-to-back Estoril titles in 14 years, when former World No. 1 Thomas Muster lifted the 1996 trophy.
"It feels great to defend the title, my fourth career title," said Montanes. "This is a special place for me and I’m happy to have won it again.
"I am definitely playing the best tennis of my career and if I keep playing like that I think I can break into the Top 20."
The World No. 34 has now won four ATP World Tour titles in eight clay-court finals and takes home €72,150 in prize money and earns 250 South African Airways 2010 ATP Ranking points.
Montanes got his first service break in the fifth game of the first set when Gil, serving at 15/40, hit a backhand under pressure into the net. He went on to hit a clever low forehand, which Gil netted, in the seventh game for a 5-2 lead.
Minutes later, Montanes won his 16th of 23 service points with a crosscourt forehand winner to take the 28-minute opening set. He hit 10 aces and committed 14 unforced errors overall.
Gil, who lives with his family in nearby Sintra, saved two break points in a tense opening game of the second set, but was broken to 15 in the third game when Montanes hit an unanswered backhand crosscourt pass.
Montanes maintained a two-game cushion until the 10th game, when he squandered two match point opportunities by hitting a forehand long and a backhand crosscourt out.
"I had the match under control for the most part at 6-2, 5-3 and two match points," said Montanes. "Then the crowd got on his back and sparked him into life. He started playing a lot better."
Much to the delight of 5,000 spectators, Gil levelled the scoreline at 5-5 but was immediately broken. The World No. 134 once again responded by breaking Montanes’ serve to love, taking the second set to a tie-break with a smash winner.
Gil, going for broke on his strokes so not to get tight, took a 4-1 lead in the tie-break courtesy of a smash winner. Serving at 6-3, he put a backhand volley wide, but clinched the 66-minute set on his third point when Montanes hit a forehand approach into the net. Both players had hit 31 winners.
Buoyed by the crowds support, Gil put Montanes under pressure in the first set of the deciding set. Gil was unable to convert two break point opportunities through forehand errors, but at the third time of asking he hit a forehand winner down the line off a slow-paced mid-court ball.
He confirmed the break with a hold to 30 and made it 3-0 with a terrific reaction volley off a powerful Montanes backhand. Undaunted in the face of two break points in the fourth game, Gil fired backhand winners but over-hit a backhand long of the baseline on Montanes third break point opportunity.
“In the third set I was double-break down and I don’t know how I turned the match around," admitted Montanes. "I just kept fighting."
The tide began to turn in Montanes’ favour and by the eighth game the Barcelona resident converted the first of three break point opportunities, on the Gil serve at 0/40, when the Portuguese hit a backhand crosscourt into the net.
The set looked destined for a tie-break, but Montanes’ big-match experience came to the fore when he led 6-5. A backhand winner down the line and a deft backhand slice crosscourt to the net-rushing Gil, put the Portuguese under pressure. Gil saved his third match point at 15/40 with a forehand volley winner, but could not deny Montanes again.
Gil had been attempting to become the third first-time ATP World Tour titlist this year, following in the footsteps of American John Isner at the Heineken Open in Auckland and Ernests Gulbis of Latvia at the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
"This was my best result so far,” said Gil. “I’m really happy to have reached the final at home in Estoril. It was a great match, I was leading 3-0 in the third set but I couldn’t maintain the level to the end. He is a very experienced player and he got the title.
"I was trying to play my best tennis and to maintain the level I wanted [in the third set]. But I want to compliment Montanes, who stayed there all the time and forced me to play my best tennis. He never stopped running and that is why he is ranked in the 30s and I’m at No. 134.
The 25 year old will rise approximately 30 places to No. 104 in the South African Airways 2010 ATP Rankings on Monday. He attained a career-high World No. 66 in May last year.
"For me, I am very happy to be Portugal’s first [ATP World Tour] finalist. I haven’t realised yet what I have done, because it is so soon after the match. I’d like to thank my family, my coaches and everyone who supported me. I’ll continue to work hard and do my best in future."
Gil got the biggest cheque of his career by taking home €37,900 and he earned 150 South African Airways 2010 ATP Ranking points. He dropped to a 7-4 mark on clay courts this year and 7-8 overall.
Montanes pulled off the biggest win of his 11-year professional career on Saturday, when he rallied from a 2-5 deficit in the second set tie-break to beat World No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland 6-2, 7-6(5). He has a 17-11 season record.