November 4, 2012

The Magic of Paris

Year after year we've seen some amazing things happen in the French capital -- whether it's been Rafael Nadal's domination on the Roland Garros clay or the steady stream of the sport's biggest stars claiming the crown in Bercy. But this year's action at the last Masters 1000 event of the season may have been the most shocking results we've seen in years.

The upsets at the BNP Paribas championship came early and came often. Former top-twenty player Sam Querrey has been climbing back up the rankings for most of the year, but he might have made the best case for himself just this week -- after stunning year-end #1 Novak Djokovic in the second round, he followed up with a win over fourteenth seeded Milos Raonic to make the quarterfinals. His run was eventually ended by wildcard Michael Llodra, once ranked #21 in the world, now a full hundred spots below that. He'd pulled off a straight-set win over American #1 John Isner and a match later halted Juan Martin Del Potro's ten-match win streak since the U.S. Open.

But the clear Cinderella story was that of a man way off the radar. "Jerzy Janowicz" was not a name many casual tennis fans had heard before Paris -- and I'm pretty sure most commentators are still pronouncing it incorrectly. The twenty-one year old had spent most of his career on the Challenger tour, and three titles on that circuit this year helped cut his ranking from #221 at the start of 2012 to somewhere in the sixties now. He'd also made a bit of a stink at Wimbledon -- he only reached the third round, but took then-#29 Florian Mayer to five sets, 7-5 in the decider before finally succumbing.

Janowicz did still have to suffer through the qualifying draw in Paris, though, but once he hit the main draw he really caught fire. The big serving Pole won more than ninety percent of his first serves against Philipp Kohlschreiber in his opener, rattled off twenty-two aces against red-hot Andy Murray two matches later, and rebounded heavily after losing his first set to London qualifier Janko Tipsarevic to make the semis. One win later and the unknown Jerzy Janowicz had reached the final in the first Masters event he'd ever qualified for.

The magic wasn't reserved for the underdogs in Paris. In the other half of the draw, fourth seeded David Ferrer quietly continued the run he's put together in October. After retiring in the first round of Beijing, he'd gone on to win his third title in Valencia, and with straight-set wins over Stanislas Wawrinka and fellow London qualifier Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he somehow became the only seed to make the final four. After an uninspired first set against Llodra on Saturday, he eventually took hold of the match to make his fourth Masters final.

Ultimately Ferrer's experience would triumph Sunday. Janowicz squandered a break chance late in the first set and Ferrer responded by taking that and the next game. The world #69 got up early in the second, though, but his lead wouldn't last. Ferrer took advantage of a slump in his opponent's serve, winning half the points on return and finally closing out the match in just under ninety minutes.

Janowicz's run to the final won't be for naught -- he's expected to jump into the top thirty when Monday's rankings come out. But for Ferrer, winless in his first three Masters finals, his accomplishment may be slightly more sweet. With his first match in London just days away, last year's ATP semifinalist is now riding his own ten-match win streak, and should take a nice confidence boost with him to the year-end championship. With seven titles now on the year, easily the most prolific season he's had, there's no reason to believe he doesn't have one more in him.

And if the magic of this week stays with him just a little while longer, we might finally see Ferrer transformed into the kind of player who can prove why he's been at the top of the game for so long.

1 comment:

Clare D. said...

So happy for David--the hardest-working and most self-deprecating guy on the tour!