The Show Goes On In Paris Behind Closed Doors

WASHINGTON, November 2, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The Rolex Paris Masters dates back to 1986 and this year, the 35th edition of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament is being held on its original November dates – despite a five-month lockdown of the ATP Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the first day of the tournament unfolded without any spectators, it’s amazing that despite all of his success in Paris, winning Roland Garros 13 times, Rafael Nadal has never won fared well indoors in the Rolex Paris Masters. He will be going for his first title in the City of Lights and his next victory will be the 1,000th of his career.

However, with the star of the show, Nadal, not on Monday’s order of play, the focus and spotlight inside empty Accor Arena in Bercy shone on a variety of other co-star players in the 56-player draw, such as Nadal’s friend and fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.

The 39-year-old Lopez, who came into this week’s play ranked 64th, took on Serbia’s No. 30 Filip Krajinovic, 11 years his junior and ranked 34 places higher in the ATP Rankings. In their second career meeting, the two engaged in a one-hour and 24-minute battle on Court 1 that Lopez won 7-6 (11), 6-1.

The focal, 24-point first-set tiebreak was a gut buster for both players. Krajinovic jumped ahead 5-0, but was unable to convert any of his six set points. Instead, Lopez fought off each of them, one by one, then closed it by garnering the final three points to win 13-11. It lifted Lopez’s spirits and he went on to win the match going away in the second set. In addition, it should not go unnoticed that Lopez fired 21 service aces, won an amazing 100 percent (34 of 34) of his first-serve points and was broken just once during the match. Lopez outpointed Krajinovic 73-52 to advance into the second round against Nadal.

During his virtual videoconference shortly after he won, Lopez said capturing the tiebreak was the key to winning the match. “It was a crazy match; I have to say. It was crazy,” he said. “I started very bad. I had a very tough start of the match, losing my serve with three double faults. I managed somehow to come back and go into the breaker. Then it was over. 

“I think I was 5-0 down, and a lot of things just happened … and I was a little bit lucky.”

Lopez, who is the oldest player in this year’s main draw – and five years older than Nadal – was asked about his playing future. “I’m ready to play full schedule again [next year],” he said. “I feel great on the court. As soon as I’m physically ready, I think I can still compete.

“I feel good, and especially on these courts, indoor, grass, hard courts where I feel more comfortable, I think I’m still able to perform and to enjoy and to play against the best players in the world.”

Humbert-Ruud: Next-Gen rivalry for now-times

France’s Ugo Humbert, 22, has developed a nice rivalry with 21-year-old Casper Ruud of Norway this year. It’s one that has the potential to develop into a great one in the future. They’ve met three times this year – the most recent being Monday afternoon on Court Central – and the 34th-ranked Humbert’s come-from-behind 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (1) victory over the No. 27 Ruud has given him a 2-1 advantage.

Humbert, who won the European Open in Antwerp eight days ago, has won his last six matches and his triumph against Ruud was the fifth time this year he’s come back to win after losing the first set. He had 12 easy serve holds – his serve was in danger only twice – and he won 84 percent (42 of 50) of his first-serve points. Humbert improved his tiebreak record this season to 12-5, a 70-percent success rate.

“It’s always tough against Casper. We’ve played three times and each time it’s always been three sets,” Humbert told Tennis TourTalk. “It’s tough to win easy against him. I’m really happy to win today. Nice victory. Really nice.”

Next, Humbert will face No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece to start Tuesday’s evening session not before 6:30 p.m. (Central European Time). “It’s another match against a great player,” Humbert said. “I’m really happy to play him tomorrow. It will be tough but I think I can do it.

“Every day, every week I try to improve my game. It’s always a different tournament every week. I know I can play a nice level like I did in the second set today. Yeah, I’m happy with my game.”

Around the Accor Arena

• No. 43 Marin Cilic of Croatia scored the biggest upset of the first day when he took out No. 14 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, in two hours and 27 minutes to advance to the second round. Cilic served 14 aces and won under pressure, outpointing Auger-Aliassime 98-79. Cilic’s 14th victory of the season was just his second since the French Open.

Cilic, who was a 2016 Rolex Paris Masters semifinalist, hit 37 winners and saved seven of the nine break points he faced against Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian No. 2, who is ranked 21st, has lost in the opening round in each of his last two tournaments since reaching the semifinals at Cologne two weeks ago.

“I felt that the level [between us] was great. I started the match amazing,”said Cilic, who improved to 2-0 against Auger-Aliassime.“It’s not very often that you win an indoor tournament against a guy like Felix who’s got a great serve, a great forehand, that you win a set like that. It was a great performance in that first one. … Overall ,it was a really, really good match.”

On Tuesday, Cilic will take on French qualifier Corentin Moutet, ranked 75th, who rallied to beat 81st-ranked lucky loser Salvatore Caruso of Italy, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

“I don’t think I was the better player,” Moutet said. “I think it was two players, it was a close match. I tried my best. He probably tried his best. There is one winner at the end. I lost many matches this year like this. This time I was the lucky one.” 

• No. 15 seed Borna Cornic of Croatia opened play on Court Central with a 7-6 (5), 6-1 victory over No. 52 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary to improve his lifetime head-to-head to 3-0. The 24th-ranked Coric was a finalist two weeks ago at St. Petersburg, then lost to Novak Djokovic in the second round at Vienna. Next, Coric faces No. 61 Justin Thompson of Australia, who advanced over 78th-ranked qualifier Federico Delbonis of Argentina, 6-2, 6-3.

• No. 16 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, in his first tournament since reaching the final at Antwerp last month, defeated 74th-ranked Italian qualifier Stefanos Travaglia, 6-4, 6-4. The 25th-ranked de Minaur won 74 percent of his service points, dropped just 15 points on his serve and saved all three break points he faced. De Minaur awaits the winner of Tuesday’s first-round match between No. 32 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy and No. 49 Alexander Bublik from Kazakhstan.

• Lucky loser Radu Albot of Moldova, ranked 90th, overcame 21 service aces by No. 33 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and won, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4. Next, Albot faces No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, who Sunday won his fifth ATP Tour title of the season at Vienna.

• Qualifier Marcos Giron of the United States, ranked 91st, hit 12 aces and defeated No. 46 Albert Ramos-Violas of Spain, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Next, Giron takes on No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy.

• No. 105 Norbert Gombos of Slovakia, who won a pair of weekend qualifying draw matches to reach the main draw, defeated 79th-ranked Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato 6-2, 7-6 (2) to move into the second round against No. 8 seed David Goffin of Belgium.

• No. 35 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany fired 14 service aces – including on match point – en route to his 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 39 Nikolaz Basilashvili of Georgia. Since the restart of the ATP Tour, Basilashvili is winless (0-8 overall and 1-17 in sets). Next, Struff will play No. 9 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, who defeated 161st-ranked French wild card Hugo Gaston, 6-3, 6-2, in 69 minutes. Carreño Busta, who led from 4-2 in the first set and won on his fourth match-point opportunity, outpointed Gaston 62-48.

• French wild card Benjamin Bonzi, ranked 180th, defeated No. 93 lucky loser Federico Coria of Argentina, 6-2, 6-1. Next, Bonzi will play 63rd-ranked Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who beat  No. 11 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2. Davidovich Fokina broke Khachanov, the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters champion, twice in the final set and closed out the one hour and 47-minute match on his first match point opportunity. It was his first Masters 1000 victory and his second against a Top 20 opponent.

“I’m very happy, I feel better everyday,” Davidovich Fokina told Tennis TourTalk. “I’m with so much confidence.”

Rolex Paris Masters news & notes 

• Following sustained close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, and in accordance with directives of local health authorities, Great Britain’s Joe Salisbury was withdrawn from the doubles main draw, where he was entered with Rajeev Ram of the United States. Salisbury and Ram were seeded third.

In a statement released Monday afternoon by the ATP Tour, “the credentialed individual, confirmed as COVID-19 positive on 1 November 2020, was moved into isolation.” Although Salisbury has not tested positive for COVID-19, he was also moved into isolation and remains asymptomatic. The Tournament Physician and the ATP Medical Team continue to monitor their conditions.

• Team France – Ugo Humbert, Corentin Moutet, Benjamin Bonzi and Hugo Gaston – goes 3 for 4.

• Click on link for Monday’s results