November 11, 2009

Who Is This Guy?!

France's Julien Benneteau has had a few big wins in his nearly ten-year career. A couple years ago he beat Andy Roddick and Fernando Gonzalez, and even scored a win over James Blake back when he was in the top ten. Last year he beat countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a handful of times and made the finals of two singles tournaments. And earlier in 2009 he notched a nice victory over fifth-ranked Nikolay Davydenko in Rotterdam before losing in the quarters.

But without a doubt, his biggest win came tonight when he shocked the tennis world by trouncing #1-ranked, top-seeded, Grand Slam record holder Roger Federer in the second round of the Paris Masters.

To be fair, of course, it wasn't exactly a trouncing. After all, Roger did take the first set in less than thirty minutes. But after that, the forty-ninth ranked twenty-seven year old had the champion running -- he won the second set in a tiebreak and then took an early lead in the third and never looked back. In just under two hours he scored the biggest upset of the tournament so far and handed Federer his earliest exit since July, 2008.

So who exactly is this man who came out of nowhere to beat the great Roger?

Julien Benneteau hasn't had a terribly notable career, having acheived a middling record of 115-140 and losing all three of the ATP finals he's played. He's probably a better doubles player, having won five titles in that discipline, but he did reach a high singles ranking of #33 this past October. He's never had the best of luck in the Majors -- he lost in the first round of the first three this year, but did make the third round in New York, his best performance there. The only surface on which he's won more matches than he's lost is carpet.

A few more wins in Paris would give Benneteau his best showing at a Masters event, but he has a long ways to go. Next up he'll face another Frenchman, Gael Monfils -- who's beaten him in three of their last four meetings. But with the favorite already taken care of, there's no reason to believe he can't pull off another win -- and any future opponent has to feel much less intimidating now.

After all, no matter who Benneteau is any other day of the year, today he is the man who beat Roger Federer.

Incidentally, the other three top seeds must be breathing their own sighs of relief. Both Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray endured long three-setters today, and Novak Djokovic, who beat Roger in Basel last week, was down 2-5 in the second set to Juan Monaco before rallying for the win. Any one of them could see a nice little jump in their ranking if they last much longer in France.

As long as they don't run into their own Julien Benneteau first!

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