Prakash loses to Santoro his first ATP Tour final

July 14th, 2008 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Roger Federer

New Port (Rhode Island), July 14 (IANS) Prakash Amritraj could not stop Frenchman Fabrice Santoro from retaining the Campbell’s Hall of Fame singles title, but even the defeat in the final should do the Indian’s tennis a world of good. A wildcard entry, Prakash has done exceptionally well in reaching the final against the second-seeded French veteran and with a little luck he could have taken it into a third set. Prakash lost 3-6, 5-7.

Importantly, Prakash received a whopping 120 South African Airways ATP ranking points to jump from 305th rank when he entered the tournament here to 204th. Prakash also received a cheque for $32,000, while the Frenchman collected $64,000 in prize money and 175 points.

Only Jimmy Connors (four times), Jaime Fillol (twice) and Mark Cox (once) have ever won ATP singles titles at an older age. In winning his sixth career title, the 35-year-old Santoro also became the oldest player to win the tourney on the International Hall of Fame’s grass courts. Andre Agassi won three events in 2005 when he was 35-years old.

With the win, Santoro joins Bryan Shelton (1991-92) and Greg Rusedski (2004-05) as a repeat winner at Newport and he is the first No. 2 seed to have won the title here since American-South-African Johan Kriek in 1981.

In the pair’s first career meeting which lasted for one hour and 15 minutes, it was Santoro who dominated the play. Both the players got off to a nervous start and traded breaks in the first two games. But it was Santoro who seized control with a second break for a 3-1 lead and wrapped up the first set in 29 minutes, winning 18 of 27 service points.

Parakash made three unforced errors in the final game of the opening set before Santoro finished it with a forehand winner off a net cord.

The Frenchman then claimed the only break in the second set, taking a 6-5 lead, before hitting a backhand passing shot at 40-love to win the match. He improved to 37-29 lifetime on grass courts.

“When you start a career at 16 years old, never, ever can you imagine you’ll win a tournament 20 years later. I played my first French Open in 1989,” Santaro said. “I have the same passion for the game as five, 10, 15 years ago, maybe more.”

“I’m just very happy to be on the court, to have the trophy in my hands,” said Santoro who had not won an ATP title since beating compatriot Nicolas Mahut in last year’s final

Despite his years of experience, his ranking (57) and the fact that Prakash was playing in his first ATP final, Santoro said he felt nervous.

“Today was my 12th singles final. This is the first time I am supposed to win. I am the favorite because of my ranking, so it was a new position for me. So I came on the court and said, ‘OK, you have a better ranking, but in sport anything can happen, but normally you should win. So I was a bit nervous,” he said.

“He played too good.. . He played unbelievable,” Santoro said of Prakash who was watched by his father Vijay behind one of the baselines.

“The strategy was right. I just need to be a little more consistent,” said Prakash who was the lowest ranked finalist at 305, in Newport history (since 1977).

The 24-year-old is the first Indian to reach an ATP final since Leander Paes won the 1998 Newport title and is the second wild card in Newport history to reach the final, joining Mark Philippoussis, who went on to win the title in 2006.

Santoro, Saturday beat American Vine Spadea in the semifinals to notch his 450th career ATP singles match win. Only Roger Federer (594), Carlos Moya (557) and Lleyton Hewitt (485) have amassed bigger totals.

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