x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Still the nation's best, Behrouzian coasts to victory

He beats close friend in Abu Dhabi final as the Davis Cup hero puts frustrations behind him after missing two years with knee problems.

Omar Behrouzian plays a forehand on his way to victory over Mahmoud Nader yesterday.
Omar Behrouzian plays a forehand on his way to victory over Mahmoud Nader yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Omar Behrouzian last night endorsed his reputation as the UAE's best tennis player when he comfortably overcame his close friend Mahmoud Nader in the final of the relaunched Tennis Ranking Masters tournament yesterday.

Behrouzian, 28, triumphed 6-3, 6-1 in just over an hour to win the first prize of Dh15,000 for the 12-man tournament which drew to its conclusion at the Zayed Sports City complex last night.

The same venue will stage the Mubadala exhibition event over the New Year, with six of the world's top players.

That likely sell-out event contrasted sharply with last night's low-key occasion which attracted a crowd of 26 spectators for matches which were conducted without line judges, ball kids or scoreboards.

Not that the triumphant Behrouzian was complaining.

Having spent two years out of action recovering from surgery on a seriously damaged knee, Behrouzian made a successful return to the UAE international scene earlier this year when he helped the country's Davis Cup team to earn promotion to the second-bottom rung of the world ladder.

He is hoping that team, now coached by Jorge Martin, the Spaniard, can make further progress and climb into Group II of the Asia/Oceania zone when the next series of matches takes place at a venue to be decided in the middle of next year.

"It was frustrating being injured for so long at a key stage in my career but I'm back now to where I was when I left off," said Behrouzian.

He is hoping for what would be his eighth wild-card invitation into the big ATP tournament in Dubai in February.

He said it was difficult to celebrate a victory over an opponent he knows so well.

"We've played each other so many times that we know each other's game inside out," he said. "I suppose it is better to beat him in the final than in one of the earlier rounds, though."

Nader, who entered the event on a wild card because he has not played in enough ranking tournaments this year, was anything but downhearted over yesterday's defeat.

Accepting his likely fate before he stepped on court, he said after the 65-minute encounter: "Omar is the best player in the country by a long way and he can beat anybody here if he is at his best.

"I've managed to beat him twice and I'm proud of that, but he has beaten me 30 times, maybe more. I find it very hard to anticipate what he's going to do even though I practise with him all the time. His shots are still difficult for me to read."

At least Nader can say he gave Behrouzian his toughest test of a tournament which has been restored to the UAE fixture list after being staged for the only previous occasion in 2003.

Taking four games off the champion was more than the British players Jamil Faisal (6-1, 6-2) and Gregory Howe (6-0, 6-1) could manage in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Nader cleared his route to the final by demolishing the second-seeded Neil Bulilan, of the Phillipines, 6-0, 6-0 before coming through a much tougher semi-final encounter against the third-seeded Australian Troy Gillham 6-3, 7-5.

wjohnson@thenational.ae