The French Open’s greatest feel-good adventure took an even happier turn on Monday as Marco Trungelliti, who drove 10 hours in a car with his brother, mother and grandmother from Barcelona to Paris in order to get into the main draw as a lucky loser, won his first round against Bernard Tomic.
The affable Argentine had lost in the final round of qualifying to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz on Friday, and was ninth in line for a lucky loser spot, which made him think it was unlikely he would get into the main draw.
He left Paris and went back to Barcelona, where he is based, before opportunity struck on Sunday, the opening day of Roland Garros. In a most bizarre and rare scenario, no players had signed in as lucky losers on Sunday, except Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat, who was seventh in line.
Safwat got into the main draw when Viktor Troicki became the seventh player to pull out of the tournament, but when Nick Kyrgios withdrew later on Sunday, there was no one there to replace him.
Some players who had lost in qualifying, were already off to play a Challenger in Vicenza, others went home, and a few, like Thanasi Kokkinakis, who fell in the qualifying second round, were on-site practicing at Roland Garros. None of these players thought to sign in for a lucky loser spot that morning and Tomic had no first round opponent.
There is an order for lucky loser spots (it goes by ranking after the first six are drawn by a lot) but when those high up in the queue don’t sign in, any player who lost in qualifying – irrespective of the round – could have taken the spot vacated by Kyrgios.
Trungelliti found out around noon on Sunday that he could get into the draw if he makes it to Paris in time for an 11:00am opening round match against Tomic on Monday.
It was then that his remarkable road trip began – one that was chronicled by his wife on social media and captured the attention of tennis followers worldwide.
“My grandma was in the shower and I told her, ‘Okay, we go to Paris’. There are many flights cancelled, so I didn’t trust too much. And then there is no train now in France so the best option was always, was just to take the car,” said a smiling Trungelliti addressing a packed main interview room at Roland Garros following his 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over Tomic.
He arrived to Paris around midnight, slept for five or six hours, and was at the French Open grounds at 7:30am, ready to sign in and take what was now a highly-coveted lucky loser spot. Needless to say multiple players signed in on Monday.
“It was good, no? It’s beautiful,” added the Argentine.
80 Km para Paris. Trunge is coming y te lo mostramos el Km a km. Suenan los Abuelos de la Nada. pic.twitter.com/0tKyRjY0Sb
— FueBuena (@FueBuena) May 27, 2018
Trungelliti’s grandmother Dafne, or ‘abuelita’ as he refers to her, turns 89 next month. She was happy to join the ride but he admits she has no clue about tennis.
“She has no idea how to count it (the score). And actually, she told me that she didn’t know that it was the end of the match until everybody was clapping,” he said with a laugh. “She’s amazing.”
Did he expect his odyssey to get this much attention?
“I think the main reason is my wife, because I have no network, so I have no Instagram, no nothing. She did it, but we didn’t know at that time that it was going to be like this,” said the 28-year-old.
Ex-top-10 player, Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis, who won his opener against Gilles Muller on Monday, was told about Trungelliti’s story. Would he drive for 10 hours to get into a Grand Slam main draw?
“Of course, it’s such a great bonus. You have nothing to lose then. To play in main draw in a Grand Slam, you don’t drive, you crawl here,” Gulbis said with a chuckle.
The lucky loser saga is interesting on multiple fronts.
Firstly, the fact that a whopping eight lucky losers made it into the main draw is unusual. But the new rule that allows injured players to withdraw from Grand Slams while guaranteeing them half of the first-round prize money. The other half goes to the lucky loser who takes their place in the draw.
The rule, implemented from the start of this year is designed to discourage injured players from taking to the court, knowingly unfit, then retiring a few games in just to collect first-round prize money.
While only two lucky losers made it into the men’s singles draw at the Australian Open this year, that number rocketed up to eight in Paris, which implies, the rule is actually working.
Germany’s Mischa Zverev was fined $45,000 in Melbourne in January for a poor performance in his first round against Chung Hyeon.
“Now with the new rule, people will pull out, they make you pull out more or less, with what happened with Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open. They made an example out of it and now everybody is making the right decision I guess,” said former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic when discussing the lucky loser drama taking place at Roland Garros.
23.50 en Paris. Marco Trungelliti ya está listo para descansar y en un par de horas ir al club para jugar el cuadro principal de Roland Garros. Continuará. pic.twitter.com/yYeZPkCuaI
— FueBuena (@FueBuena) May 27, 2018
The other interesting part is how little players know about the lucky loser system and how there seems to be a breakdown in communication between the officials at the tournament, and the players.
I personally was the one who told Safwat on Saturday evening that he was next in, after two players ahead of him got into the draw.
Trungelliti’s coach only got the idea to encourage his player to call the tournament and ask when he saw Safwat on court, competing against Dimitrov.
Surely there is a better way for players to be informed about withdrawals.
Kokkinakis admits he doesn’t know much about how lucky loser situations work.
“I wish I knew how this worked f***,” tweeted the Aussie when he found out he could have played in the French Open had he signed in.
Petkovic says the same thing happened at a $100k tournament she played recently, but she never thought she could see it manifest at a Grand Slam.
“I got a walkover because Genie Bouchard pulled out like an hour before our match and nobody had signed in. And I hadn’t played Challengers in a while so I thought ‘okay, that’s a Challenger thing’. And then I’m here at a Grand Slam and still almost nobody managed to sign in. I just guess it should be a lesson to everybody, you should always sign in, it just doesn’t matter,” said the German.
Malek Jaziri is hoping his strong record against Mikhail Youzhny can help him in his opener against the veteran Russian at Roland Garros on Monday.
The Tunisian world No. 63 will face Youzhny for a second time in two weeks having defeated him in their qualifying match in Rome earlier this month.
It’s often tricky playing the same player in back-to-back events but Jaziri is feeling solid on the clay this season, having reached his maiden ATP final in Istanbul this month, on the red dirt.
He has two top-five wins this year, with triumphs over Grigor Dimitrov en route to the Dubai semi-finals in February, and over Marin Cilic in Istanbul.
“I enter with confidence, always when you beat someone, I think I beat him in Dubai two years, and last year in Shanghai and now Rome, so it’s good. Hopefully I’ll pass this time as well. With the right attitude, good feeling, good match, everything together insha’Allah,” Jaziri told Sport360 in Paris ahead of his first round against Youzhny.
Jaziri’s best showing at Roland Garros is making the second round, in 2012 and 2016.
He is one of two Arabs to start the main draw in Paris, with Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat losing his first round to Dimitrov on Sunday.
The 34-year-old Tunisian continues to show great progress, this late in his career, and feels his partnership with French coach Christophe Freyss is paying dividends.
“I think I’m doing a great job with my coach, Christophe really, with his own experience, he beat a lot of top players, (Ivan) Lendl, he beat Arthur Ashe in his last match, he beat a lot of top-10 guys, with his experience he can push me, even the attitude on court, he lived these moments so he can help me with that,” said Jaziri.
“And physically with my fitness coach, he used to work in other sports but with me I’m working hard daily. We’re doing a good job and hopefully we’ll do better, so I can make better results at bigger tournaments. I’m improving every year, that’s the most important thing. It’s not easy, winning, defending, but I’m here.”
Jaziri is scheduled to face Youzhny on day two, Monday, third on Court 15 from an 11:00 (local time) start.
The 35-year-old Youzhny is a former world No. 8 currently ranked 98 in the world.
Tennis draws are always a hot topic at any tournament, especially at the Slams.
They are dissected and deliberated to no end, and most of the time, they never go according to (supposed) plan.
When it comes to the players, discussing draws is not always an easy task.
Draws are actually a polarizing topic for them, with some comfortable with the idea of talking about their possible opponents, and others strict believers in navigating a tournament in the dark.
Garbine Muguruza belongs to the latter group.
The Spanish two-time Grand Slam champion hates knowing who she is going to play next, let alone who she might play a couple of rounds down the line.
On Friday during her pre-tournament press conference, she claims she only found out she was playing Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round from a journalist’s question.
It may seem strange that a player doesn’t know who her next opponent is, because it sure sounds like an essential piece of information to prepare properly for a match.
Imagine if you’re playing a lefty, and you choose not to know and miss the opportunity of practicing with a southpaw before the match? Or as one friend pointed out, if you’re going to play Monica Niculescu then step on court and realise you’re going to get attacked by every slice and drop shot in the book but you weren’t ready for it.
Journalists get assigned to write match previews and it gets harder to do that when a player refuses to discuss their next opponent – which happens more often than you think.
But while there are many players like Muguruza, who prefer to focus on themselves rather than the person across from the net, there are others who don’t shy away from peeking ahead.
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) May 23, 2018
In Madrid, I had asked Maria Sharapova if she was aware of the fact that she could snag a last-minute seeding at Roland Garros if she does well in the Spanish capital and the subsequent tournament in Rome. I wondered if she’d prefer not knowing that so she doesn’t put pressure on herself, or get carried away looking too far ahead. I asked that because historically, many players have given me such reasons for similar questions.
Not Sharapova though.
“I’m not afraid to be aware of it. I don’t really mind. I’m not someone that doesn’t look at the draw or doesn’t want to see who they’re playing. That’s never really bothered me. You’re going to have to face someone in the next round, whoever it is,” said Sharapova.
Dominic Thiem, the No. 7 seed in Paris, is someone who certainly does his homework.
He was quoted by German journalist René Denfeld as saying: “I’ve got a tough draw, but it’s never easy here.”
When asked if he was aware of his possible fourth round or quarter-final opponents, he replied: “I know the full draw, not just my sector – possible round of 16s etc. It’s interesting and I like to take a good look at it.”
Somehow that makes more sense to me, but hey, to each their own.
UPSET OF THE DAY
Kateryna Kozlova def. Jelena Ostapenko 7-5, 6-3
A section of the draw lost three of its top four seeds as fifth-seeded Ostapenko, ninth-seeded Venus Williams and 22nd-seeded Johanna Konta all crashed out on opening Sunday.
But defending champion Ostapenko’s loss has got to be the biggest surprise of the day as the Latvian fell to 66th-ranked Kozlova, who hadn’t played a match since Indian Wells and was sidelined for two months with a knee injury.
STATS OF THE DAY
6 – Ostapenko is the sixth women’s singles defending champion at a major to lose in the first round of their title defence, joining Steffi Graf (1994 Wimbledon), Jennifer Capriati (2003 Australian Open), Anastasia Myskina (2005 Roland Garros), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2005 US Open) and Angelique Kerber (2017 US Open).
22 – years since an Egyptian had last competed in a Grand Slam main draw. Mohamed Safwat ended that drought for his nation on Sunday as he got in as a lucky loser to face Grigor Dimitrov.
QUOTES OF THE DAY
“I’m really disappointed and so angry. I mean, I’m, just, like really angry and I just want to turn back the time.”
– Jelena Ostapenko is not hiding her feelings about her opening round defeat on Sunday.
“Yes, I’m going to be careful. I won’t go to a discotheque until 6:00 am.; I will go home at 4:00 am.”
– French teen Corentin Moutet jokes when asked what he’ll do from now until his next match, which is in three days’ time on Wednesday.
“Even as a human being I’m going through difficult times, but this will be finished soon for many reasons that I could explain, this is going to end. And I guess that after Roland Garros I’ll have to challenge myself to change things and to start some special work. I’m here. Unfortunately I’m hitting the ball right but my mental is not there. My mind isn’t in the right place.”
– Frenchman Gael Monfils is apparently going through something. We’re not sure what it is.
“Go home and come back…”
– Elina Svitolina said this with a laugh when asked how she’ll spend her next couple of days before her next match on Wednesday.
“Well, I mean, I guess that’s what keeps them guessing. But I’ve had some pretty good results, so it works for me. Every person is different and what may work for me may not work for the next person, and that’s totally fine. Everyone has their own way of doing things. So I like me, I like the way I do things, and I just stick with that because I feel best that way.”
– Sloane Stephens when asked if the fact that she doesn’t show much emotion on court is why she was described by Chris Evert as not having enough fire.