Ernests Gulbis not thrilled being used as guinea pig for new rules like shot clock - Roland Garros diary

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An on-court shot clock counting down from 25 seconds between points was tested during the qualifying rounds at Roland Garros last week and will be introduced to the main at the US Open this summer.

The idea is to strictly enforce the rule of the time limit for the server, which is often abused by many players.

I watched a few qualifying matches in Paris and didn’t witness any issues with it and was curious to hear the thoughts of some of the players who had the shot clock on court for their clashes.

Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis didn’t mind the presence of the shot clock, but has thoughts on such new rules being tested on a specific set of players rather than across the board.

“I like when they have the same rules for qualifying and main draw. I don’t like it when they try to test something on the weaker players, on the worse… I don’t know. If they have a rule, they have a rule. It’s the same for everybody and I don’t like when they change that,” said Gulbis after his opening round win over Gilles Muller on Monday in Paris.

“I don’t mind any of these rules, I just don’t like it when somehow qualifiers or somehow the weaker tournaments are being pushed less, it’s a hard enough life for them.”

Ernests Gulbis. Man of the People.

Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat, who contesting the qualifying rounds at the French Open, found the shot clock helpful, but is not too keen on the one-minute limit before the coin toss.

“The shot clock doesn’t bother me, it’s a reference. But I didn’t like that one minute at the beginning. It’s so stressful. When you enter the court, you have one minute to be ready. If you exceed the one minute, you pay a fine. At the US Open, the fine was $500. It’s too much,” said the Egyptian.

“I was checking the shot clock from time to time. It didn’t distract me. The tempo starts to be faster.

“My opponent Henri Laaksonen, I didn’t understand what he was doing. He was just standing looking at the clock. He’s stand there at 17 seconds or something, and we’re waiting for seven, 10 seconds, and then he serves.”

THEY SAY COOL, SHE SAYS AWKWARD

Elsewhere, Naomi Osaka was her typical, entertaining self in the press conference room after her opening round victory over Sofia Kenin.

A GQ article about Osaka was recently published with the title describing her as ‘The coolest thing in tennis’.

Osaka, a shy, quirky character with the best one-liners, does not necessarily agree with that headline.

“That’s so embarrassing,” she said when I asked her about it. I think if they wanted to title it something, they should have titled it the ‘most awkward person in tennis’.

“If that’s how they feel, then I’ll take it, but I don’t think – with that title, I don’t think I’m that person.”

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Malek Jaziri dedicates Roland Garros first-round win to hospitalised coach Christophe Freyss

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Dynamic duo: Jaziri and Freyss. (Credit: Instagram/@jazirimalek)

Malek Jaziri dedicated his hard-fought five-set win over Mikhail Youzhny in the Roland Garros first round on Monday to his coach, who was hospitalised on the eve of the Tunisian’s match in Paris.

His coach, French former player Christophe Freyss, felt unwell a few days ago, and was admitted to a hospital on Sunday for what Jaziri describes as a heart blood clot.

“I’d like to dedicate this win to my coach, who suffered a blood clot in his heart and is currently in the hospital. He felt weird a few days ago and didn’t do anything about it. Then he went to the doctor yesterday and they admitted him. He wasn’t with me today,” Jaziri told Sport360 after he defeated Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 on Monday.

“I’ve been with him every single for almost six months. So today was different and I felt a responsibility today to win so I can make him happy. Thank God I won and hopefully I made him happy, and made Tunisians and all Arabs happy. I had pressure inside to win for him today.

“He needs to stay in the hospital for three days. I spoke to him briefly after the match. He’s with me in my heart and my mind and I wish him a speedy recovery.”

Jaziri had chances to wrap up his win against Youzhny in four sets as he went up a break for 2-0 in the fourth. But he scraped his knee on the clay when sliding and the umpire advised him to stop because it was bleeding. That interruption worked in Youzhny’s favour as he broke back upon the resumption of play and ran away with the set to force a decider.

But Jaziri, who entered the clash with a 3-0 winning record against Youzhny steadied the ship and secured the win in three hours and 33 minutes.

His reward is a second round showdown with French No. 27 Richard Gasquet, who crushed Italian Andreas Seppi 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.

Jaziri, who has two top-five wins this season against Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic, says he feels a lot more confident against such high-calibre players.

“I think the pressure will be a bit more on him. It’s a match I’m looking forward to. We’ve played each other before, but indoors, this time on clay at Roland Garros. It’s a good opportunity for me. I’m going in looking to get the win. My mentality now is much better, and I feel like I can beat anyone.

“I feel the players as well respect me more.”

Gasquet defeated the 34-year-old Jaziri in their sole previous meeting, in Montpellier last year.

It is a match that will likely take place on a big court at the French Open and Jaziri believes it would be a big step up for him to get a win like this at a Slam.

“It’s important of course. I’m going through somewhat of a rejuvenation period at the moment. I’m winning some important matches. Now I need to recover well because I played for three and a half hours,” said the Arab No. 1.

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Marco Trungelliti's 10-hour drive to Roland Garros results in first round win over Bernard Tomic

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Trungelliti with his brother, grandma and mother en route to Paris. (Credit: Twitter/@fuebuena)

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.

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.

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.

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