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Malisse, Ferrero Begin London Campaigns With Wins

Malisse© Tim EdwardsXavier Malisse, a finalist in London last year, played Pat Rafter, who retired due to a calf injury, on Thursday.

To nobody’s surprise, it was an exciting first day of play at the Royal Albert Hall for the final ATP Champions Tour event of the season, with a 2017 tour titlist and last year’s runner-up in London getting off to quick starts at Champions Tennis.

Xavier Malisse, who pushed Fabrice Santoro to three sets in last year’s championship match, was scheduled to play former World No. 1 Patrick Rafter in the opening match of the tournament.

But after the Belgian captured the first set 6-4, Rafter had to retire due to a calf injury, and was replaced by London’s own Greg Rusedski. The left-hander held his own against the 37-year-old, but Malisse won the exhibition set 7-5.

“It’s unfortunate but I had fun out there with Greg and I had a good couple of sets,” Malisse said. “It’s always so beautiful here. Every time I walk in here it just amazes me. It’s a good crowd and a great atmosphere – what else can you really wish for?”

Former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who triumphed at the Kings of Tennis by Index Residence on ATP Champions Tour in Stockholm, started his campaign for a second title in 2017 with a thrilling comeback. The Spaniard overcame an early onslaught of powerful serving and penetrating baseline shots to defeat Mark Philippoussis 3-6, 7-6(5), 10/4.

“Like always, returning Mark’s serve is very difficult, and here there is not a lot of space in the back of the court,” Ferrero said. “So the first set didn’t feel great, but then little by little and step by step I started to get a little more rhythm in the match and hit the ball harder and I was finally able to win in the third set.”

Ferrero’s speed allowed him to slowly get to more and more of Philippoussis’ shots, and then he began to step into the court more himself as the match wore on, throwing in an array of drop shots to keep the Australian on the move as well. The coach of 2017 Nitto ATP Finals qualifier Alexander Zverev impressed his opponent on Thursday evening.

“The atmosphere was as good as I remember. Honestly the crowd is so good, so knowledgeable and so much fun,” Philippoussis said. “It was great playing Ferrero. A ball I normally think might have been a winner, they come back. He just moves so well and is still very solid. It was awesome playing our first match together.”

While Rafter will be replaced by Rusedski for the rest of the event, fans at Royal Albert Hall will get more chances to see the champions who took the court on opening day as the event continues.

On Friday, Philippoussis will get another crack at his first win when he faces defending champion Fabrice Santoro, who also claimed the title in Monterrey, at 1:30 p.m. Malisse will attempt to add another victory when he battles former top-ranked player Marat Safin at 7:30 p.m.

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