SINGAPORE - After over 20 years, the opening point of Singapore's first top-level men's tournament since the 1999 Heineken Open was an inch-perfect backhand passing shot down the line from Ramkumar Ramanathan.
But no cheers filled the OCBC Arena on Monday (Feb 22) with the 3,000-seat stands left empty as the Singapore Tennis Open, Singapore's first ATP 250 event, is being held behind closed doors for now.
Up to 250 fans may be allowed for the semi-finals and final this weekend if there are no tournament-related positive coronavirus cases, among other factors like local transmissions, organisers had said last Friday.
While Ramanathan won the first point, his opponent, Japanese Taro Daniel, brushed it off, won the first set convincingly and later endured a spirited fightback from the Indian before winning 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3.
Daniel, 28, said: "In the second set, he stepped up his game and really started going for the first and second serves, which was difficult because I didn't have that much room to put pressure on him so he did really well there.
"In the third set, I decided to go farther back (behind) the baseline to give him a different vision and he made a couple of mistakes he hadn't made before so I think that was a good move for me."
Daniel's next opponent is 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic and he knows it will not be an easy game despite Cilic's recent dip in form.
"Cilic has a huge game, with big strokes and ground strokes. I think there are going to be more high-paced rallies so I have to be on top of my service game, pressuring him with my serve and moving him around more.
"In tennis, you always have a chance to have a big break. You can't expect it all the time but you just keep going and sometimes they happen.
"He's a Grand Slam champion and two-time finalist so I've got to be on the top of my game and I've got nothing to lose so I'm really excited to play him."
Cilic, a former world No. 3, said that he was still feeling really positive despite coming off a disappointing Australian Open, where he suffered a straight-sets loss to Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the first round.
"I generally really like the start of the season. I was at home for some time with my family and spent a good time together these last two months," said the 32-year-old Croat.
"I had a good preparation and was training hard but was a bit unlucky in that one match, losing to Grigor who was playing amazing.
"It's a time for me to get some matches in to get into match form and that's why I decided to come here. I feel it's a great week to play."
He added he was happy to be back in Singapore after an enjoyable time in 2015, when he was here for the International Premier Tennis League.
Monday's matches also saw the first upset of the tournament when Bulgarian wild card Adrian Andreev knocked out seventh seed Lloyd Harris 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. South African world No. 82 Harris had injured his ankle in the second set.
World No. 423 Andreev, 19, said he was nervous in the beginning but the turning point came when Harris twisted his ankle, giving Andreev belief he could win.
"He seemed fine in the third set. He was running for drop shots, we were having long rallies and we were serving really well. I just started getting into the rhythm and playing better points because I was more relaxed on my serve.
"It's very difficult to compete at this level and sometimes when you're beginning to play, you have to go out with a bit of belief.
"When I won the match, I just proved to myself that I can play on this level and can compete with the right mindset."
In other key matches, locals Shaheed Alam and Roy Hobbs lost 7-5, 6-1 to N. Srinam Balaji of India and Luca Margaroli of Switzerland.
The Singapore Open continues on Tuesday with sixth seed Radu Albot taking on qualifier John-Patrick Smith, and top seed doubles pair Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen also in action.