Mannarino: ‘The Next Time, I’m Going To Try My Best Again’

WASHINGTON/PARIS, November 6, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Adrian Mannarino isn’t the most well-known of the current group of the French mousquetaires and far from the flashiest. Certainly, he doesn’t have the instant name recognition of Gaël Monfils or Benoit Paire or the panache of Richard Gasquet or kindred spirit of Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

However, the 36th-ranked Mannarino, born 32 years ago in Soisy-sous-Montmorency, France, takes his craft no less serious and at times can be a pleasure to watch.

On Thursday evening, over the course of three hours and 250 points, the left-handed hitting Mannarino fought point after point with fourth World No. 7 Alexander Zverev on Court Central inside AccorHotels Arena during their third-round match of the Rolex Paris Masters.

The match, which Zverev won 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 6-4, included a 24-point tiebreak that decided the first set in favor of the German and a 16-point tiebreak that was won by Mannarino that forced a decider.

In the final set, Zverev broke Mannarino for the fourth time in the match to push ahead 5-4. Soon, his 18th service ace set up match point against the Frenchman and his 19th ace wrapped up the victory, which advanced him to Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 12 seed Stan Wawrinka. The loss leveled Mannarino’s 2020 season win-loss record in all competitions at 16-16.

“Adrian is a great player and you kind of have to stick with him,” said the fourth seed Zverev, when asked by Tennis TourTalk to describe what he learned from facing Mannarino, whom he has never lost to in five career meetings.

“Every time I play Adrian is a very difficult match.

“We played US Open and we played in Cologne, we played here, and all of them kind of went the distance. I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew he’s a great player. Especially on a faster surface like here he’s very difficult to beat. I knew I had to stay in there for the whole match.”

When Mannarino arrived in the virtual interview room to take questions from reporters, first in English and later in French, it was late – about 11 p.m. Central European Time. While it would have been easy enough for Mannarino to talk in platitudes – after all, imagine being in the position of having just spilled your heart and soul on the tennis court in a near-empty arena that normally seats more than 20,000 appreciative spectators … well, you get the picture.

Instead, Mannarino was introspective and honest – and a refreshing interview subject. Soon, it became part interview and part therapy session. The reporters assumed the role of psychologists listening to Mannarino, who was their patient.

Tennis TourTalk began by asking: “You were on the court this evening for three hours and played 250 points. How did you manage to stay focused through such a long match, especially with two long tie-breakers? What did you learn about yourself, as well?”

Mannarino gave careful thought to the question for a moment, then very slowly began to explain:

“Well, actually that’s the point I’m pretty disappointed about,” he said. “After the end of the first set, I kind of felt frustrated, and I started the second set pretty well. I broke him once. Then he broke me back. Then I broke him again.

“But actually, every time I was a little in front in the score, I kind of lost my concentration. I was thinking about, like, the set point I have missed in the first set, and then I was just thinking a little bit too much about what I have been missing in the first set instead of, you know, being in the moment.

“So, I was always kind of waiting for the moment to be back to the wall to kind of just keep my concentration pretty high. But I don’t know if it was because I was kind of tired or just frustrated about the result of the first set, but I think that my concentration was not that good today. It was off, so maybe this is what I have been missing in the second, too.

“[Sascha’s] been serving pretty well. He’s been serving so good; I had no occasion. I was ahead in the score, but he’s been serving huge. I was a little under pressure all the time, so it’s not easy to handle that. I don’t know. I haven’t been put my first serve. Then I was defensive maybe. I tried to react.”

Given time, perhaps Mannarino could have gone on further, but he did more than answer the reporter’s question. Within moments, at least a couple of different reporters who were part of the virtual press conference via Zoom were tweeting Mannarino’s comments for all to read and react upon.

Looking back on Mannarino’s season, it began slowly with consecutive first-round losses at Doha, Auckland and Melbourne and a second-round loss in Montpellier, followed by another set of first-round defeats at Rotterdam and Delray Beach. After winning his second match of the year, against Cameron Norrie, it was immediate followed by a loss to Grigor Dimitrov in Acapulco. Finally, Mannarino caught a streak of luck when he dropped down to play an ATP Challenger 100 in Monterrey, Mexico, which he won by stringing together five consecutive straight-set victories.

Then, coming out of the ATP Tour lockdown, Mannarino split four matches in New York and returned to Europe where he promptly lost four consecutive first-round matches in Rome and Hamburg, at the French Open and in St. Petersburg. Then, he reached the quarterfinals of the second Cologne tournament before finding his mojo.

Indeed, the past two weeks have been among Mannarino’s best – winning three in a row at Nur-Sultan and two more in Bercy this week. His 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win over Yoshihito Nishioka on Wednesday was his 200th career ATP Tour-level victory. It provided him with some hope, which came crashing down upon him following the Zverev defeat.

Given an opportunity at a follow-up question, Tennis TourTalk seized the opportunity and remarked about how it had been a very busy week for Mannarino. After all, he played in last Sunday’s Astana Open final in Nur-Sultan, which he lost to Australia’s John Millman. Then, he flew back to France and immediate dove into his next tournament. Mannarino was asked whether his loss to Zverev closed the book on his 2020 season or if he would play next week in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“I’m on the list [for] Sofia, but this is actually too tough a loss, like losing in the final in Nur-Sultan with [a] pretty good performance on my side,” he said. “Tonight, I think I have been playing a pretty good match, but still, it’s always like pretty heartbreaking to lose a match this way. 

“I was so close. I have been fighting my best, but it’s tough. Right now, I’m still doubting about if I’m going to go to Sofia or not. 

“My goal for the end of the season was to be seeded at the Australian Open, and I think that I had a pretty good occasion if I would have won in Nur-Sultan. But losing badly there (7-5, 6-1) and losing again tonight is not giving me all the chance to be seeded. 

“I don’t know how many points I’m missing, but I will have to make such a good result to be seeded. 

“At the moment, I just feel like it’s going to be too hard, and I don’t know. I mean, this is the last tournament. So, maybe, I should just give it a last push, but let’s see. I don’t know. 

“I still have, like [a] few hours to decide. I’m just going to go talk with my coach and my team and just see what’s best for me.”