RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, March 13 – Mark Philippoussis of Australia and Fernando Meligeni of Brazil each advanced into their first career Champions Series tournament final Saturday with semifinal victories at the $150,000 Banco Cruzerio do Sul Rio Champions Cup. Philippoussis defeated former world No. 1 Mats Wilander of Sweden 6-3, 6-4, while Meligeni defeated Wayne Ferreira of South Africa 7-5, 2-6, 10-2 (Champions Tie-Breaker). The Banco Cruzeiro do Sul Rio Champions Cup is the opening event on the 2010 Champions Series tennis circuit, the U.S.-based international tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over.
Sundays final, with a $60,000 first prize check on the line as well as 800 Champions Series ranking points, will be a rematch of a round-robin match from last years event in Rio, won by Philippoussis 6-4, 3-6, 11-9 (Champions Tie-Breaker).
I expect a fun match against Meligeni, said Philippoussis. It is going to be a great atmosphere, playing against him here in Brazil. I know what he is going to do. He is going to try to make me run all around the court, to both sides and I know I wont be doing it. I will play my way.
Philippoussis, 33, first joined the Champions Series circuit in 2007 after tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee while attempting to return to the ATP World Tour earlier in the year at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia. He was unable to play competitive tennis in 2008, due to continued knee problems, but returned to the Champions Series in 2009, with a third-place finish in Grand Cayman being his best result to date. During his ATP World Tour career, he was a singles finalist at Wimbledon in 2003, losing to Roger Federer, marking Federers first career major tournament victory. He was also a finalist at the U.S. Open in 1998, losing to countryman Patrick Rafter.
This is my first final in the Champions Series and I havent had these many matches in a long time, so the more I play, the better it is for me, but it feels really good to win, said Philippoussis, who has been enjoying time surfing off the beaches of Rio when not competing this week. My body is feeling good and that is what matters for me and that I am having fun on the court.
Meligeni, who will turn 39 on April 12, is from Sao Paulo, Brazil and is a local wild card into the event. He reached the semifinals of the French Open in 1999 and finished in fourth place at the 1996 Olympic Games, falling to Leander Paes in the bronze medal match. He did pick up a medal seven years later, in the final match of his career defeating Marcelo Rios in the gold medal match at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Against Ferreira, Meligeni rode the wave of the highly energetic and partisan home crowd to win the hard-fought nail-bitter on the fast indoor court at the Maracanãzinho Stadium.
When I got here I felt like an outsider, among so many great champions, number ones, top 10s and now I am in the final, said the left-handed Brazilian. In tennis sometimes, when you dont lose in the first round and you dont have a great day, you have the chance to come back the next day and turn things around. That is what I did today. I played good tennis, had fun on the court and I knew that if I could win the first set, I would have a better chance, because Wayne is in better physical condition than I am.
In his quarterfinal match early Friday against Mikael Pernfors, Meligeni said after losing the first set, that quitting competitive tennis entered his mind, before surging back to win the match in a first-to-ten-points Champions Tie-Breaker, played in lieu of a third set.
Said Meligeni after his win Friday over Pernfors, It wasnt a usual performance for me, as I am used to being much more relaxed on court and having more fun with the crowd, but this is very, very competitive and we both wanted to win and I had to find a way to be the winner. You could tell that Pernfors wasnt very happy when he left the court.
Tickets for the event can still be purchased by calling 5521-3005-4023 or on www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com Sundays schedule begins at 11 am with the third-place match between Wilander and Ferreira, followed by the singles final between Philippoussis and Meligeni.
Jim Courier finished the 2009 season as the top-ranked player on the Champions Series, followed by Pete Sampras and Todd Martin. John McEnroe won the inaugural Rio Champions Cup in 2009, defeating Courier 6-2, 6-3 in the final. The full 2010 Champions Series schedule of tournaments will be announced in the near future. The first tournament in the United States the Staples Champions Cup – will be held April 29-May 2 in Boston, Mass., and will feature Bjorn Borg playing in his first tournament in the U.S. in 10 years.
InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Champions Series tennis circuit, a collection of tournaments featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events, corporate outings and tennis fantasy camps such as the annual “Ultimate Fantasy Camp”. Through 2009, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment events have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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