Joao Sousa wins home-country event

Portugal’s Joao Sousa was down and nearly out in the second round of the Estoril Open.

To a namesake countryman, no less – a wild card named Pedro Sousa who is a year older and ranked No. 144.

But he survived those two match points, and he survived a three-setter against No. 3 seed Kyle Edmund.

Sousa also survived the challenge of the hottest player not named Nadal on the clay-court circuit, young Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. That one came down to a third-set tiebreak.

So if he had enough left in the tank to overcome dangerous American Frances Tiafoe Sunday, 6-4, 6-4 in the singles final, it may have just been meant to be, even through a few hiccups after he built up a 4-0 lead in the second set.

Home-country champions’ week

Sousa has played his home-country event all four times it has been held. He lost in the first round to players ranked much lower than him the first three times.

A year ago, he lost in straight sets to American Bjorn Fratangelo, who was ranked 100 spots below him.

But not this time.

It’s a tough, tough thing to win a tour-level event in your homeland. If it seems as though it might be extra-motivating, it may well be that. It’s also the most exhausting week players, especially those from smaller countries, will experience all year.

Not only is there more media attention than they likely deal with all year long, there also are more demands – from the tournament, from friends (and new friends) wanting tickets, from the tournament and federation officials they’ve probably known most of their tennis lives.

To get through it is impressive.

And, amazing enough, it happened three times this weekend.

First, Petra Kvitova came straight from Fed Cup and Stuttgart and won her home-country event in Prague for the first time.

Earlier in the day Sunday, top seed Alexander Zverev picked up his seventh title – and a sweet BMW – in Munich.

And then, Sousa, who hails from Guimaraes, about 250 miles up the coast from Lisbon.

Unseeded shocker, smiles all around

Zverev and Kvitova had to be considered big favorites at their respective tournaments, the top-seeded players in their draws after Karolina Pliskova pulled out of Prague.

For Sousa, unseeded, with no track record at Estoril, it was a joyful surprise.

And it led to some pretty fun stuff.

Finalist Tiafoe was a smiling, willing participant on an afternoon in a packed stadium that those in attendance will remember for a long time.

(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Tiafoe was all smiles after he made a joke including Sousa’s girlfriend among those happy to see him win.

Sousa sang the national anthem with all his might. Your heart must skip a beat when you hear your anthem being played in your homeland, because of something YOU did.

And it’s not every day that you get a big hug from the anthem singer, either.

You can even get away with wearing your flag as a skirt, as you make a speech in front of all the suited-and-booted dignitaries.

Which, of course, allows you to go and give every single one of them a big, sweaty hug.

Of course, Tiafoe got to the back of the line and got himself some lovin’, too.

Your coach – your countryman and close friend Frederico Marques – is allowed to shed a few tears, after all you’ve been through together.

And then … party time!

Let’s just say Sousa probably has more experience, as Tiafoe is still underage back at home (although he makes it with years to spare in Portugal).

Tiafoe’s technique is all wrong. He’s using his non-dominant hand to try to pop the cork!

Sousa opted not to wait. Understandably.

Back to Tiafoe – still struggling. Sousa laughing. And chugging.

Finally! Success. You need two hands for that job. He’ll learn.

Understandably, Sousa was quite prepared to hang around and turn off the lights.

No Madrid for Tiafoe and Sousa

Tiafoe, who was two out of the main draw in Madrid, obviously couldn’t get there for the qualifying, which began Saturday.

So he has a week off.

Same for Sousa. At the entry deadline, he was ranked No. 80, nowhere near the main draw.

So he can catch his breath and celebrate properly.

He’s unlikely to win a major at this point – although never say never. But this moment, when he’s done and dusted and looks back, might still make the top of his list of memories.

Both would be expected in the Rome qualifying next weekend.

Tiafoe will be at No. 56, and Sousa back in the top 50 at No. 48 on Monday.

Estoril’s brilliant pitch for No. 1

As world No. 1 Andy Murray was in the throes of a tough three-setter with Albert Ramos-Viñolas of Spain in Monte Carlo Thursday afternoon, the Millennium Estoril Open posted this piece of brilliance online.

It was prescient. Murray ended up losing his third-round match in three sets. He will have just two matches on the red clay before his next scheduled tournament in Madrid the week of May 8.

As well, Murray had quarter-final points to defend in Monte Carlo. He also has finalist points in Madrid and championship points in Rome to defend during the French Open tune-up season. The Brit is miles ahead of No. 2 Novak Djokovic. But as Djokovic well knows, even the biggest of leads can evaporate in a hurry.

It’s a near-impossible task for 250-level ATP events to survive without a dose of star power. But the tournaments face an uphill battle to come up with the appearance money necessary to entice those players to come. The top guys, who so often reach the weekend at the bigger tournaments, don’t need the money. You can’t get a Federer to show up unless you go sweetly into the seven figures. The players also don’t need the extra commitment weeks.

Nicolas Almagro was a worthy Estoril champion in 2016. But you’d have to think the world No. 1 would attract a better crowd.

Istanbul: from Federer to … Tomic

Look at Istanbul, which is played the same week as Estoril. For its inaugural event in 2015 it got Federer. He was full value for the investment: he won the tournament. The following year the No. 1 seed was … Bernard Tomic. Tomic lost his first match to Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

This year, the top seed there will be Canadian Milos Raonic, who hasn’t played since pulling out of Miami several weeks ago with a hamstring tear. Raonic, despite his impressive credentials, isn’t the type of player to put bums in the seats.

The video is cheeky, has a sense of humour and clearly was well thought-out. It’s a terrific, creative effort by a small tournament forced to think out of the box.

The problem is that the day before, Murray said he was considering an offer from next week’s event in Budapest to play there.

‘I’ve never been to Budapest before. It’s a new tournament and it’s not as strong (as the concurrent event in Barcelona) in terms of the player field, so there is maybe more chance of getting more matches there. It depends how I get on this week and how my elbow feels,” Murray told the media in Monte Carlo.”

Budapest has big money behind it, from Russian oil megazillionaires Gazprom.

Now, the question is: will Estoril be an offer that Murray can’t refuse? Stay tuned.  If it does, Istanbul will be kicking itself for not having come up with it first.