Sydney, Australia, 15 January 2012 | AAP
Finn Jarkko Nieminen kept his 100 per cent record over Frenchman Julien Benneteau to win the Apia International title in Sydney, 6-2, 7-5.
It was the men’s final nobody saw coming which very nearly became the one with no winner. A bout between qualifier Nieminen and the unseeded Benneteau had for the first time been delayed by a day due to persistent rain.
But just as it looked like mother nature herself was ready to declare the result a draw – the clouds parted and Jarkko Nieminen took his chance to claim the title.
Having waited so long to get on court, Benneteau wasted no time once the weather cleared, breaking Nieminen’s first service game – before the Finn took over to claim the first in just 28 minutes on his way to the comfortable victory.
Nieminen did not concede another service game in the match.
In front of nearly-empty stands – with the bulk of ticket holders presumably taking up the offer of trading their tickets in for the 2013 men’s final rather than watching the two journeymen slug it out – Nieminen put in a polished performance to claim just his second career title, the first qualifier since Hyung-Taik Lee in 2003 to win the event.
It was largely unfamiliar territory for the left-hander, who has lost 10 of his previous 11 finals matches but, once he clicked into gear, it was a smooth ride.
Benneteau remains winless in six ATP finals.
With the victory, Nieminen joins the likes of all-time greats Roger Federer and Pete Sampras and four-time champion Lleyton Hewitt on the Sydney honour roll.
It makes for a particularly busy start to the week for the 30-year-old, who also has the doubles final on Sunday before flying down to Melbourne for his Australian Open first-round match against David Nalbandian on Monday night.
Benneteau gets a little more time to recover; he won’t face Karol Beck until Tuesday.