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France clinch first Hopman Cup Nadal floors Monfils to win Qatar Open

PERTH, Australia, Jan 4, (AFP): France won their first Hopman Cup title on Saturday night, taking a thrilling decider against Poland. The two countries split the singles rubbers at the mixed teams tournament, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beating Grzegorz Panfil and Agnieszka Radwanska then edging past Alize Cornet in an epic battle. The French then claimed the tie with a 6-0, 6-2 win in the mixed doubles rubber. France had previously been beaten in the 1998 and 2012 finals. No player during the tournament showed more determination to win than Cornet and she was understandably thrilled to notch her country’s first win in the tournament. “We made history today and France finally won the Hopman Cup,” she said. “I think we deserved it, we played a great week.”

Tsonga, the world number 10, said Cornet had a future in Hollywood after her theatrics on court, including jumping into his arms after the winning point. He was pleased with his form heading towards the Australian Open, finishing unbeaten in singles this week and said winning the event was the icing on the cake “It is always great to hold a trophy,” he said. Although Panfil was on the wrong side of the ledger in the final, the tournament was still the highlight of his career. Ranked 288th in the world, he beat two top 30 players in Milos Raonic and Andreas Seppi, and pocketed easily the biggest pay cheque of his career. The 26-year-old was a late replacement for countryman Jerzy Janowicz in the tournament. He had career prizemoney of US$137,936, and collected AUS$90,000 ($81,000)for losing the final. After Tsonga won his singles match in three sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, Radwanska levelled the final with a gruelling win over Cornet in a high-intensity match with many long rallies.

The world number five survived a marathon 80-minute second set, during which she held a match point, before the Frenchwoman finally squared the match in the tiebreak with her fifth set point. However, Cornet had run herself to the point of exhaustion, at one stage suffering the ignominy of incurring a time penalty as she struggled to regain her breath following yet another long rally. She tired in the final set, allowing Radwanska to prevail in two hours and 33 minutes, 6-3, 6-7 (7/9), 6-2, in one of the most remarkable matches ever seen at the mixed teams tournament. Despite the vast chasm in their rankings, Tsonga had his hands full with the little-known Panfil. Tsonga created numerous break points, converting just two of 14, but got a shock when Panfil capitalised on his only opportunity to break in the eighth game of the second set, levelling the match in the process. However, Tsonga steadied in the decider to maintain his unbeaten record in seven singles matches in Perth.

Rafael Nadal at last made a title-winning start to a year when he held off Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2 to clinch the Qatar Open on Saturday. It was world number one Nadal’s 61st career title and took him to eighth on the all-time list, passing Andre Agassi. “I never had the chance to win here before. I had match points against Davydenko in the final a few years back,” said Nadal, who was runner-up to Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko in 2010. “I’m happy to start the season like this, it’s the first time I have won a title in the first week of the year and it’s a great way to start the season.” Nadal took his record over Monfils to 9-2 with the Frenchman having achieved both his wins over the Spaniard in Doha, in 2009 and 2012. It was a fine start for Nadal to a year in which he hopes to ward off Novak Djokovic’s challenge for the world number one spot, and in a month when he hopes to regain the Australian Open title after a five-year interval.

His standard rose increasingly as the two-hour contest wore on, and his baseline rallying gradually became tenaciously indestructible, its peak coming in the fourth and fifth games of the final set. This was when he made a crucial break of Monfils’ serve, and followed it by recovering from love-40 down to saving five break points altogether and consolidate his match-winning lead. That fifth game was punctuated by moments of drama when Monfils thought he had earned a sixth break back point, only for a line judge to call Nadal’s over-hit backhand drive in. TV replays confirmed that the shot was indeed out, but Monfils had missed his chance to appeal to the Hawkeye video replay system because he had continued the rally for another stroke. “A title is always a title especially in the first week when I have never won before,” added Nadal. “I started to see some great play from Gael, and if he (continues to) play like this he has a good chance of reaching the top ten.”

Two days ago Monfils defeated title-holder Richard Gasquet and altogether scored four express victories which did indeed suggest that for the Guadeloupe-born Frenchman the best, at the age of 27, may yet lie ahead. In the first 25 minutes on Saturday, Monfils was too nervous to do himself justice, and it was not until the first game of the second set that he began to get going. Monfils followed it with some brilliant inside out forehand driving which earned him a break of serve, and became really excited when he saved two break back points to reach 4-1. After that he became extremely dangerous, serving ferociously, often rallying intelligently, and always capable of delivering a bombshell winner.

Although Nadal characteristically worked his way back to parity Monfils produced a wonderful angled return on the sixth point of the tie-break which earned a mini-break that won him the second set. “The crowd and the court here are unbelievable and I just feel very good here,” said Monfils, who was playing his third final in Doha after losing to Roger Federer in 2006 and compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2012.
“I started very slow, but Rafa put me under pressure from the first point and I had not played any matches like this, this week. It was tough to adjust. “I just hung around a little bit and waited for the second set, and then I played stronger. It was a battle.” Nadal’s praise of the final went further than that. “It’s a very special moment,” he said, grateful perhaps that despite his injury-restricted off-season schedule he is beginning to play to a high level already. “It was important to survive, and it was a pretty tough win against a tough opponent. I am very glad to start (the season) like this.”

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