Paris Masters Opening Day Featured Plenty Of Intrigue And Entertainment

Paris Rolex Masters (photo: ATP Tour video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, November 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Rolex Paris Masters, a late-season fixture on the ATP Tour every year since 1986, returned with a stellar field that includes eight of the current Top 10 players – and 14 of the Top 20.

As main draw play unfolded Monday inside Accor Arena in the Bercy neighborhood of Paris’s 12th arrondisment, home to France’s Finance Ministry, it’s anyone’s guess who might lift this year’s trophy next Sunday – not to mention win first-prize money of 336,030 euros and pocket 1,000 ATP rankings points. The top seeds include five-time Rolex Paris Masters champion Novak Djokovic, who is seeded No. 1 and playing for the first time since losing in the final of the US Open; No. 2 and last year’s champion Daniil Medvedev, No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is hoping to win his second Masters 1000 title of the season; and No. 4 Alexander Zverev, who is fresh off winning his fifth title of the year at Vienna Sunday and earlier won Masters 1000 titles at Madrid and Cincinnati.

While the top eight seeds all received byes and will play their first matches over the next two days, the opening day of the main draw featured some intriguing first-round matchups, including 144th-ranked wild card Andy Murray of Great Britain, who won the Rolex Paris Masters in 2016 and made his return after a four-year absence. His last three victories have come against Carlos Alcaraz, Frances Tiafoe and Hubert Hurkacz. He’s also suffered some tough losses to quality opponents, including: Hurkacz, Casper Ruud, Zverev, Diego Schwartzman and Alcaraz.

Lucky loser Koepfer saves seven match points, turns into a winner

Monday evening, Murray faced surprise lucky loser Dominik Koepfer of Germany, ranked 58th, who was a last-minute replacement for #NextGenATP rising star Jenson Brooksby of the United States. Brooksby, who reached the main draw during the weekend, withdrew during the afternoon due to an abdominal injury. Last week, Brooksby qualified for next week’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, Italy.

In a physical and mental battle that took its toil on both combatants – and went the distance after Murray rallied from 1-3 down in the second set to take it to a decider – the former No. 1 brought everyone to their feet with his grit and determination and hustle. In the end, it was a third-set tie break that decided Murray’s fate. After three hours and one minute, Koepfer won 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (9) after he saved seven match points from Murray, including five in the tie break. On the 20th point of the memorable and dramatic tie break, it was Koepfer who finally pulled out the victory from the jaws of defeat on his first match point after Murray banged one last forehand past the baseline.

Koepfer finished with five aces and 40 winners to offset 51 unforced errors, while Murray hit 11 aces and 32 winners but committed 41 unforced errors. Next, after a well-earned day off, Koepfer will play either No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada or 66th-ranked qualifier Gianluca Mager of Italy.

Hall of Famer Jim Courier, who commented on the match for Tennis Channel, called it “phenomenal drama and serious guts.”

“It was unbelievable. I thought I had it in my hands in the second set serving for it at 5-4. He just made a lot of balls, I didn’t make a lot of balls. That was the difference, and it was just a great fight in the third set,” Koepfer said during a post-match interview. “I just tried to stay in the moment and tried to play every point.

“Obviously it’s tough to play against him. He makes so many balls and is an unbelievable competitor. I knew that going in, I was ready for it and [am] just happy I got through.”

During his press conference, Murray was asked if it would go down as one of his most painful defeats, given that he wasn’t able to cash in on any of his seven match points. He replied:

“Obviously, I’m very disappointed just now. … Probably not one of my most painful. You know, it’s the first round of a tournament, and I didn’t deserve to win the match. I didn’t play well enough to win.

“That’s the thing I’m most disappointed with, was the way I played tonight, to be honest. I mean, I did really well to get myself in the position to win the match, but I don’t think I deserved to win. … Obviously, I had a ton of opportunities at the end to do it, but the way that I was playing was not good enough.”

Korda’s Paris debut a memorable one

Another memorable battle took place during the day on the more intimate Court 1 between No. 13 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia and No. 39 Sebastian Korda, another #NextGenATP standout from the U.S., that was won by Korda, 6-2, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5), in his Paris debut. The match-within-a-match included a 73-minute second set in which Karatsev prevailed in a tie break 11-9.

The 16th-ranked Russian saved match points during the tie break at 6-7 and 7-8 before pulling the set out on his third try to force a decider. The final set included a 22-point marathon sixth game, in which Karatsev saved five break points just to hold serve. The first-round match went down to the wire with Korda exuding plenty of mental fortitude. He finally won on his fourth match-point opportunity in another tie break 7-5, and showed just how strong of a mind he possesses.

“We played a couple of times in the last year, so I knew what to expect. He knew what to expect,” Korda said during a TV interview with Tennis Channel. “It all came down to the clutch moments. It’s always fun to play in front of a tennis crowd. They got fired up. It was so awesome.

“I had a lot of chances in the second set but I didn’t take them. Then, he broke me and I broke right back. It was a dog fight in the end. I had match points in the second set and learned a few things in the tie-break. It was just getting myself back into those break-point opportunities and finding a way.”

The loss eliminated Karatsev, who recently won the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow but lost in his first match last week at the the St. Petersburg Open, from qualifying for the final spot in the Nitto ATP Finals that is currently held by Jannik Sinner of Italy. Next for Korda is a second-round match against either 28th-ranked St. Petersburg Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia or Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, ranked 45th.

Fucsovics fights Fognini to the finish and wins

Finally, there was a highly-entertaining two-hour and 45-minute Court Central tussle between 40th-ranked Marton Fucsovics of Hungary and No. 37 Fabio Fognini of Italy that set the tone for the entire day. Fucsovics closed out his 6-1, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5) victory a flourish by hitting his ninth ace on his fourth match-point opportunity. In addition to the usual Fognini theatrics, which included a few tossed racquets and plenty of chattering to himself in between points, the match featured a total of 10 breaks of service and Fucsovics finished with 28 winners to 36 unforced errors. Fognini hit 30 winners but committed 63 unforced errors.

“Winning a match against Fabio is never easy; he’s a big fighter,” Fucsovics said during an on-court interview. “You have to fight him the whole match. Luckily, I was serving very well. At the end, it was very important.”

Next, Fucsovics will play No. 1 seed Djokovic on Tuesday.

“I’m looking forward to playing against Novak, it’s always a pleasure,” Fucsovics said. “I will try to play relaxed and enjoy the match.”

Djokovic returns to Tour, begins chase for sixth Paris Masters title

As World No. 1 Novak Djokovic returns to competition for the first time since his defeat in the title match at the US Open final, he’s looking to set more records. Djokovic, who is playing both singles and doubles at the Paris Masters, took Court Central Monday with fellow Serbian Filip Krajinovic for a first-round doubles tussle against Australians Alex de Minaur and Luke Saville, which they won in a fun and entertaining fashion – and in front of a big crowd, too – 4-6, 6-4, 10-7 in an hour and 36 minutes.

“I’m pleased to be back. I have been training reall well past couple of weeks,” Djokovic said Sunday during a pre-tournament interview session with media. “And I have had plenty of success in Paris-Bercy over the years, so that gives me enough reason to believe that I can do well, and I can go far in the tournament. But having said that, the lack of match play could be dangerous, so I have to really make sure that I start off my first match very well and with good intensity and build my form as that match passes on and hopefully get a win and get myself more comfortable on this court and just getting that match play in.”

Djokovic, a 36-time ATP Masters 1000 winner – including five Paris Masters titles – will play his first match against No. 40 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, who beat Italy’s 37th-ranked Fabio Fognini, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (5). He is 3-0 lifetime against Fucsovics.

Once again, Djokovic declined to confirm whether he would play at the Australian Open in January.

Monday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Tuesday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

Around the Accor Arena

• No. 10 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, ranked 13th, scored an easy 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 43 Federico Delbonis of Argentina in a Court Central battle of lefties. It was Norrie’s 100th ATP Tour tour-level win and it kept him mathematically alive for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin later this month. Norrie dominated the 72-minute match by outpointing Delbonis 60-37.

“It’s been a phenomenal year and I’ve been really enjoying my tennis,” Norrie said during his on-court interview. “I’ve been moving and playing well, and I’m enjoying being in Paris.”

Next, Norrie will play either No. 25 Reilly Opelka of the United States or No. 42 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia on Wednesday.

• No. 36 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan squandered a match point in a game in which he hit six double faults serving for the match against No. 24 Dan Evans of Great Britain and got broken. Somehow, Bublik reset and broke Evans, then served out the 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 first-round victory on Court 1. Bublik fired 24 aces and hit 37 winners overall despite being outpointed by Evans 103-95. Next, Bublik will face No. 6 seed Casper Ruud of Norway.

• No. 34 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia hit 17 winners and outpointed 54th-ranked Mackenzie McDonald of the United States 57-49 on Court 1 to advance against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany.

• No. 46 Ilya Ivashka of Belarus fired 15 aces and saved both break points he faced in his 6-3, 7-6 (2) win over No. 44 Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain on Court 2 to advance against No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia on Wednesday.

• No. 59 Adrian Mannarino of France delighted the Bercy fans with his 6-2, 6-4 triumph over No. 21 Nikolaz Basilashvili of Georgia, in an hour and 15 minutes on Court Central, in which the final service game by the Frenchman lasted more than 11 minutes. He recovered from 2-4 down in the second set to pull out the straight-set victory, in which he saved three break points and won on his second match-point opportunity. Mannarino, who outpointed Basilashvili 60-41, overcame 20 unforced errors by hitting 10 winners. Next, he will play either No. 15 seed Gaël Monfils of France or 69th-ranked Serbian qualifier Miomir Kechmanovic.

• In an all-French battle between two friends – a qualifier and a wild card on Court 1 – it was a big win for 103rd-ranked Hugo Gaston, who upset No. 62 Arthur Rinderknech, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in two hours and 14 minutes. Gaston overcame Rinderknech’s power game, which produced 10 aces, by breaking him four times in 10 tries and saving 10 of 13 break points he faced. Next, he faces No. 12 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, who mastered No. 47 Benoit Paire of France, 6-3, 6-4, in the final match of the evening session on Court Central.

• Sixty-seventh-ranked lucky loser Lorenzo Musetti of Italy pulled out a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over No. 51 Laslo Djere of Serbia on Court 1 that lasted two hours and 35 minutes. Musetti outpointed Djere by just two points, 106-104, and advanced to meet either No. 14 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain or No. 55 James Duckworth of Australia, who play Tuesday.

Record first-day crowd at Accor Arena

Monday’s crowd of 10,065 at Accor Arena was a first-day record for the Rolex Paris Masters.

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic is tied with Pete Sampras for most finishes at the top of the year-end FedEx ATP Rankings, with six each. Here is how Djokovic can clinch a record-breaking seventh year-end No. 1 finish this week at the Paris Masters, according to the ATP Tour website:

• Djokovic wins Paris title (regardless of Medvedev’s Paris finish)

• Djokovic reaches Paris final & Medvedev does not win Paris title

• Djokovic reaches Paris SF & Medvedev does not reach Paris final

• Djokovic reaches Paris QF & Medvedev does not reach Paris SF

• Djokovic reaches Paris R3 & Medvedev does not reach Paris SF

• Medvedev does not reach Paris QF (regardless of Djokovic’s Paris finish)

“Quotable …”

“The year-end No. 1 is on the line between Medvedev and myself, and I’m in a pretty good position. That’s obviously the goal for the end of the season other than trying to do well in the Davis Cup with the national team. So hopefully I can have a strong finish of the season and clinch that year-end No. 1.”

– World No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia during his media day press conference on his year-end goals.