Rios’ route to his 13th title (5th & last Mercedes Super 9):
2 Oliver Gross 7-6(6), 7-5
3 Wayne Ferreira 6-1, 3-6, 6-2
Q Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-4
S Carlos Moya 6-4, 7-6(4)
W Mariano Zabaleta 6-7(5), 7-5, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-2 – 1 m.p.
Marcelo Rios of Chile saved a match point and captured his first title of the year when he beat Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina in five thrilling sets in the final of the German Open. Rios, 23, needed 4 hours and 7 minutes to prevail over the unseeded Argentine 6-7(5) 7-5 5-7 7-6(5) 6-2.
“Winning a match like this is great,” Rios said. The victory came two weeks after Rios had to retire in the final of the Monte Carlo tournament with a thigh injury. Rios, who collected 361,000 $ for his victory, became the first South American champion in Hamburg since Guillermo Vilas of Argentina in 1978. It was the first all South American final in the history of the German Open. Rios was twice a break up in the 1st set but Zabaleta fought back breaking serve to level at 5-all and force a tiebreaker. Rios sent a backhand into the net to drop the first set. “The first set killed us, we were both tired,” Rios said. “I was a bit too relaxed at the start.” Zabaleta, 21, let the 2nd set slip away. He broke Rios’ serve to make it 5-all, only to have his own serve broken in the very next game. A double-fault at game point set off a chain of errors by the young Argentine, who lost the game finally by hitting a backhand long. Rios, seeded fourth, served out the second set at love. The tennis produced by both men at the center court of the Rothenbaum Club was often spectacular and far from the typical clay-court battle of long rallies from the baseline. After trading breaks early in the 3rd, there was a brilliant point in the fifth game, with Rios diving hard to retrieve a shot. He got the ball across the net, only to have Zabaleta nearly hit him with a volley, producing an angry stare from Rios. Zabaleta, who has a big forehand, again twice came back from a break down to save the set. With Rios serving, a backhand by the Chilean landed in the net to give Zabaleta a set point. The Argentine then hit a good return that forced Rios into a forehand error and Zabaleta was in the lead, two sets to one. The Argentine dropped his serve for the seventh time to give the fourth-seeded Rios a 3:2 lead in the 4th. Having won his last three service games at love, Rios had the opportunity to serve out the set. He won the next three points, and with one point away from the set, made two errors and then produced a double-fault. He fought off one break point, but then served another double-fault and Zabaleta won the next point to pull even at 5-all. Another double fault by Rios gave Zabaleta a match point at 6:5, but Zaba’s forehand sailed into the net. Rios held and won the tiebreaker with some clever shot-making. Zabaleta fell behind again 0:2 at the start of the fifth, but immediately broke Rios’ serve and held for 2-all. However, he committed a double-fault to go down 4:2 and Rios held to lead 5:2, winning 12 of 13 points in a decisive span. Zabaleta saved three match points, but then his forehand went long and Rios could celebrate. “Marcelo won with the experience of many good finals,” Zabaleta said. “I played a good match and it’s been the greatest week of my career.” “He is young but he is very good,” Rios said of Zabaleta. Diagnosed with a stress fracture to the lower left side of his lumbar spine, Rios had to miss the Australian Open and two others tournaments at the start of the year. This was only his seventh tournament of the year. “To win a big tournament and feel no pain in the back, that’s great,” said Rios, who won his 12th career title. Rios held the No. 1 ranking for six weeks last year in a season curtailed by injuries. He started the week ranked No. 8. Zabaleta, who has won one title, in Bogota in 1998, began the week ranked No. 48 and is now likely to crack the top 25. He earned $190,000.
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