Schalken and Halard-Decugis emerge victorious in Japan

Unheralded Dutchman Sjeng Schalken pulled off his third straight upset to win the men's singles title at the Japan Open in Tokyo, outduelling fourth-seeded Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in today's final match.

Unheralded Dutchman Sjeng Schalken pulled off his third straight upset to win the men's singles title at the Japan Open in Tokyo, outduelling fourth-seeded Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in today's final match.

It was only the fifth career championship for the 24-year-old native of Weert, currently ranked 51st in the world.

In the women's final of the dlrs 970,000 tournament, top-seeded Frenchwoman Julie Halard-Decugis downed American defending champion Amy Frazier 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.

Schalken earned his title the hard way, knocking off big-serving Australian Mark Philippoussis in the quarters and then outlasting eighth seed Hicham Arazi of Morocco in the semis.

Against the 16th-ranked Lapentti, the top seed left in a tournament whose other early casualties included Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil and Michael Chang of the United States, Schalken maintained his consistent ground game while taking advantage of chances to attack the net.

"Overall (my game) was very consistent the whole week," he said.

Lapentti came in more often behind his serve but also made more unforced errors, and some of his forays were cut down by Schalken's precise passing shots.

With the first set tied 4-4 and Lapentti serving, the fourth seed dug himself in too deep with mistakes, then conceded a triple break chance when Schalken wrong-footed him with a wicked forehand.

The Ecuadorian turned things around in the second set as Schalken struggled to find his range from the baseline.

But the high-flying Dutchman broke Lapentti three times in the third set and never looked back.

"In the third set it just starting slipping away," Lapentti said.

The women's final between the 19th-ranked Halard-Decugis and the 20th-ranked Frazier was a marksmanship contest between two baseline sharpshooters.

Both players struggled to get their first serves in, and their second serves often made easy targets for winners to the corners.

Frazier broke Halard-Decugis in the seventh and 11th games of the first set, earning a double break point with a perfect backhand winner down the line.

The American was leading 5-3 in the second set and appeared ready to win her second straight championship.

But Halard-Decugis saved three championship points, taking risks including a nifty crosscourt backhand volley at the net.

Luck seemed to have smiled on her when she won the set with a return that clipped the net and dropped over in front of a helpless Frazier.

In the decisive third set, Halard-Decugis broke Frazier in the 10th game to win the match, snapping off a forehand return to the corner that bounced harmlessly off the American's racket.

It was the Frenchwoman's 12th career singles title on the WTA tour.

"It was a very tight match," she said. "I just feel very lucky to win today."

Frazier, a 28-year-old Michigan resident, was playing in her ninth Japan Open, and she had the best tournament record in the women's singles competition, having advanced at least to the quarterfinals in all of her appearances.

In the other Japan Open match today, unseeded Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes of India defeated the fifth-seeded pair of Australian Michael Hill and American Jeff Tarango 6-4, 6-7 (1-7), 6-3 to win the men's doubles title.

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