Qualies Weekend in Bercy

By Guillaume Willecoq and Marijo Marugan

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Saturday

While the technicians were finishing setting up the main scene – sponsors’ posters, cable access, strengthening barricades – several players were already coming out to hit on the Central Court. They were laughing and teasing each other. Making fun of Nico Almagro for not yet having a smart phone. Mikhail Youznhy and Juan Ignacio Chela were hitting backhands, Philipp Kohlschreiber is there barely looking at them.

Almost 150 media outlets from all over the world are expected to come to Bercy and squeeze together in the media center for the week. Bercy suffers from lack of space, it’s the big issue. If the main court fits the standard amount of spectators, side courts do not. They improved many things over the years, and it’s no secret that the tournament would like to reduce the playing field.

The players in the qualifying draw are long time usual suspects: the Frenchman Marc Gicquel, the American Michael Russell, the Finn Jarkko Nieminen, the Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili, the Swiss Stephane Bohli (the long time prospect of Swiss tennis before Federer hit the big stage) or the Italian Fabio Fognini, none of them in his prime anymore. Gicquel beats the German Tobias Kamke easily in two sets, he’s in good form after winning his home tournament in Rennes, Fognini beats an unkonwn Spaniard who likes the indoor courts, Bautista-Agut recently semifinalist in Rennes Challenger as well. Fabio “the Italian lover” Fognini seemed to have disappeared this season after his epic match at Roland Garros against Gaël Monfils, but he managed to win three challengers on clay this summer, and he’s back here for the end of the season.

Finally, Benoit Paire: 21 years old, a promising French player. One can say the guy is a little mad and flashy, but in a good sense. He  is refreshing in his attitude; he may not be used to the big stage of the ATP World Tour yet. Last year he was bounced from the French national tennis center for his bad temper, he seemed to have learned the lesson to calm down a little if he wants to succeed and improve. One can sense the long time echoes of GoranIvanisevic in him. Nothing like that here. He really looked like the better player making Marchenko look more ordinary, but the man from Ukraine was simply more solid and took him out in three sets. But during those three sets, you could admire his quality of play, he hits very clean shots, especially on his backhand, he loves to play with the ball going for drop shots, lobs, touch volleys. If he hits a nice shot, he goes for same stroke on the next shot. You can’t fool anyone twice and he usually loses the point. You can see he really enjoys himself on a court, he runs after the services wide, he kicks the ball like a soccer ball between points. He needs to mature, but he’s talented enough to get in the top 50 next year.


Sunday

End of the road for Clement Reix, but it was nice while it last. It’s the Cinderella story of Bercy. Three months ago he was ranked 783rd in the world, next week he’ll be in the top 300. How did he get there? The 27th year old, won three futures tournaments in France during the summer, he beat many players ranked above him during his run. He was granted a wild card to play the qualifying in Bercy. He beat his first top 100 Marsel Ilhan, he was very happy with that win. But how do you get to play your first Masters Series tournament at 27, which is almost too old to crack up into the top 100? From the city of Amiens, like Julie Coin, he went to the United States. He had a scholarship at Clemson University and played for the Tigers, in his best year he was ranked 6th in NCAA Division I play.

He came back home with a degree in 2007, but wasn’t ranked at all. He decided nonetheless to take his chances on the pro tour. He won his first Futures tournament in 2008, and made significant progress this past summer. He played with zero pressure against Josselin Ouanna, going for his shots, he went very close to take the second when he had three set points but Ouanna came back serving big, got the momentum and run away with the last set. Maybe we will see more of him next year, he hopes that too.

The first main draw play day ends with the last players to qualify: Benjamin Becker, Jarkko Nieminen, Fabio Fognini, Santiago Giraldo, Illya Marchenko and Josselin Ouanna. Michael Rusell is the lucky loser of the day, with Janko Tipsarevic withdrawal due to hip injury. The day went quietly with only two matches from the main draw. The first day is only open to the BNP Paribas guests, it’s a smooth way to start up a tournament on a Sunday, and it’s the only one of the nine Master Series events that does this.

The journalists of the French tennis website 15-LoveTennis are covering the Paris Masters tournament as media for Global Village Tennis News. Follow their French language coverage on http://www.15-lovetennis.com/ and their English coverage here on GVTN.