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Fernando Gonzalez played the final match of his career on Wednesday, falling to Nicolas Mahut 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3) in a riveting night-session opener at the Sony Ericsson Open.

The Chilean trailed Mahut 4-5, 15/40 in the final set, before showcasing his craft at the net which saw him win the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medal with Nicolas Massu, saving both match points with a forehand volley winner. He denied the Frenchman an additional match point to even the set at 5-5.

The two held in their final service games to battle it out in a tie-break, where Mahut grabbed the momentum, breaking down Gonzalez’s backhand. The 31-year-old Gonzalez had the misfortunate of ending his career with a double fault, but it was quickly forgotten as he was greeted with a roaring applause from the crowd in celebration of his achievements.

“I saved a couple of match points before, and I felt that it’s going be the end, and then I have the chance to keep playing,” said Gonzalez. “I had my chances. But Nicolas played better in the important moments, and I was a little bit tired at the end.”

He was presented a commemorative frame by ATP Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett, and Sony Ericsson Open Executive Vice President and Tournament Director Adam Barrett. A special video tribute featuring goodbyes from Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, the Bryan Brothers and David Nalbandian aired on the big screens.

Drewett said, “Fernando has been one of the most exciting and charismatic players on the ATP World Tour over the last decade. He is a wonderful person off the court and popular with everyone involved in the sport, including his fellow players, tournaments and all of us at the ATP. We thank him for his many contributions to the game and wish him all the very best.”

Gonzalez said, “At the end, the video was great. It’s not only about tennis. It’s also about friends. I mean, we’ve been playing against each other many times, but at the end of the day we are friends. We have a great relationship. Of course, the atmosphere was great. We’re really far away from Chile, and there was little flags. There was my family here. I had a lot of friends, and I really enjoyed the moment.”

Gonzalez completes his career with a 370-202 record, highlighted by 11 ATP World Tour titles. He finished runner-up to Roger Federer at the 2007 Australian Open, which enabled him to break into the Top 5. In addition to his doubles gold medal, Gonzalez captured the bronze medal in Athens and a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also reached two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court finals at Madrid in 2006, and Rome in 2007.

“I don’t have the energy to get up in the morning, train like I have to train, travel like I have to travel,” admitted Gonzalez. “And I’ve been doing this for many years. If I’m not going to be 100 per cent, I think I have to do something else.”

Mahut will play 2010 Miami finalist and No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych in the second round.

David Nalbandian set a second-round clash with ninth seed Janko Tipsarevic following his 6-4, 7-6(0) victory over Steve Darcis. Nalbandian, coming off a quarter-final showing in Indian Wells (l. to Nadal), capitalized on five of his 14 break point opportunities.

Lukas Rosol secured his fourth tour-level win of the season, topping Michael Llodra 6-4, 7-6(6). Rosol did not face a break point to beat the Frenchman in 82 minutes.

Croatia’s Ivan Dodig battled past lucky loser Tobias Kamke 6-0, 2-6, 7-6(5) in two hours and 42 minutes. Dodig is aiming to win back-to-back matches for just the second time this year.

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