A total of 10 French men started in the main draw of the Open 13 Provence in Marseille: seven of them receiving direct entry, three of them coming through qualifying. Heading into the quarterfinals, however, only Richard Gasquet and Benoit Paire are the last “Blues” standing.
At the beginning of the week, the field in Marseille was brimming with French players but as the week has progressed a lot of the local names have flamed out earlier than anticipated.
Tuesday proved to be a blow to the tricolore when last year’s finalist Gael Monfils was forced to withdraw from the Open 13 Provence. The enigmatic 30-year-old reached the final in Rotterdam, losing out to surprise winner Martin Klizan, but the number of matches played in the past week saw him re-aggravate a hamstring injury he picked up at the IPTL at the end of last year.
Things went from bad to worse for last year’s finalists when defending champion Gilles Simon suffered yet another narrow defeat — mere days after dropping his second round match in Rotterdam to Alexander Zverev in similar fashion. The No. 5 seed was understandably frustrated after losing to Teymuraz Gabashvili in a third set tiebreak and admitted that he’s currently searching for his form — and struggling to find it.
“At the moment, I’m just playing terribly. Physically, once my shoulders and abs are better again, I’ll be able to serve again. Right now, I’m putting soft balls into the middle. It just cannot be that within two months I’m playing well for about three days,” Simon stated after the match — leaving the Open 13 Provence with more questions than answers.
Similarly to Simon, qualifier Kenny De Schepper lost a heartbreaker in a third set tiebreak, going out to 2014 champion Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian fought his way through the match, with his serve being the saving grace amidst a myriad of forehand errors.
At the end of the night, fellow qualifier Julien Benneteau’s comeback came to a stuttering halt as he not only suffered defeat in two tight sets at the hands of the aforementioned German youngster Zverev but also injured his left calf late in the 2nd set — rendering him unable to move properly until the conclusion of the match.
“I really wish it’s nothing major for him because he’s really starting to play well again and he’s starting to come back strongly, so hopefully it’s nothing big and he’ll be back soon,” the 18-year-old said, empathizing with his opponent after the match.
Two all-French encounters on Wednesday ensured at least two local favorites progressed in the tournament but the respective winners went out earlier today — 19-year-old wildcard Quentin Halys tumbled out against Andrey Kuznetsov, a man who had already cut Halys’ compatriot Lucas Pouille’s stay in the Provence short.
For every cloud there’s a ray of sunshine, however, and that comes — maybe somewhat unexpectedly based on form in the past few weeks — in the form of No. 8 seed Benoit Paire. The World No. 21 had been on a four-match losing streak coming to Marseille but wins over Simone Bolelli and qualifier Vincent Millot gave the 26-year-old some much needed confidence after several uninspired defeats on the trot.
“When you’re close to the Top 20 of the world, you can’t really afford such a run of bad results, so it’s definitely good to regain the taste of winning even I’m still not 100 percent physically,” Paire said after his win over Millot, who had previously upset an exhausted Nicolas Mahut.
The next task will be substantially more difficult for Paire, as he faces good friend and top seed Stan Wawrinka next.
“If I serve like today I think I have some chances. The thing is I have to play with confidence. Habitually [usually] when I play against him, I feel bad on court because he’s a very good friend of me. The most important is to play my game and we will see what happens.”
A little later, Richard Gasquet was the second Frenchman to join Paire in the quarterfinals. The No. 3 seed faced Gulbis for the second time in as many weeks but this match proved to be a tighter affair than their encounter in Montpellier. The Latvia won more points than the World No. 9 over the course of the first set but it was Gasquet who clinched the key points en route to a 7-6(3), 6-3 win.
Gasquet will face Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals – and leads the head-to-head 3-1. Despite the results of the early action, there’s a good chance that at least one French player will be around during the weekend — much to the joy of the crowd here in Marseille.