Marseilles Open Semifinal Review: Allies and Rivals

2010 Marseilles Open
By Matthew Zemek, February 21st, 2010

Michael LlodraOn the final day of the 2010 Marseilles Open, Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau will begin a long afternoon as opponents locked in battle. A few hours later, they’ll be on the same side of the net as they pursue a championship together.

That’s not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in the middle of winter.

On a particularly fascinating tennis weekend in the generally low-key month of February, two French comrades have managed to do something quite remarkable. For starters, Llodra and Benneteau claimed singles victories in the semifinal round of the Open 13 event in Marseilles, France. Llodra dismissed Mischa Zverev, 6-1, 7-6 (3), while Benneteau edged defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6 (11), 5-7, 7-6 (3).

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The fact that two players made their way to a singles final is, by itself, unremarkable. What’s amazing is how the singles competition at the Palais des Sports hasn’t been the singular source of satisfaction for two longtime ATP Tour veterans.

Two triumphant athletes thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon advancements, by all appearances. Llodra and Benneteau, given wings by their singles conquests, used their adrenaline rush to then win a doubles semifinal match in the evening, defeating Arnaud Clement and Nicolas Mahut, 7-6 (0), 6-4. At the end of three matches, seven sets, four tiebreaks, and several hours of professional tennis, Llodra and Benneteau earned twin spots in both the singles and doubles finals of this French tennis festival.

When Sunday’s schedule begins at 2 p.m. local time, Llodra and Benneteau will contest the singles championship for 250 ATP rankings points. After a break of at least 45 minutes, if not an hour, the two men - one of them a singles champion, one of them a runner-up - will go back to the light blue rectangle and join forces in the doubles final against Julian Knowle and Robert Lindstedt, who won their doubles semifinal on Friday.

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It’s quite rare to see a singles final and a doubles final being contested by the same pair of players. It’s not something tennis diehards see every weekend on the ATP circuit. (The WTA Tour, with Serena and Venus Williams, has provided such a scenario on several occasions over the years, including at the Majors.) Yet, what makes the Llodra-Benneteau “double stack” even more incredible is that it has been replicated elsewhere on this very same weekend.

At another ATP 250 stop in Memphis, Tennessee, Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey have advanced to Sunday’s singles final while also marching to the doubles final as a team. One weekend and two ATP tournaments have produced two tandems who will play as adversaries in one match and then join hands in the next, with two championships waiting to be won.

And you thought February was a boring tennis month.

In looking ahead to Sunday, the advantage in the singles match lies with Benneteau. The No. 8 seed at this tournament knocked off the second-seeded Tsonga with a clutch serve and superior composure under pressure.

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Tsonga had three set points in the first-set tiebreak, but he biffed an easy forehand on one of them (at 9-8) to give Benneteau a reprieve. To his credit, Benneteau took advantage by wearing down Tsonga and drawing errors from the 2010 Australian Open semifinalist. The third-set tiebreak was less contentious, but the winner was the same, as Benneteau showed steely nerves and reached the fourth ATP final of his career.

Benneteau - in beating Tsonga - took down an opponent with a much bigger and more formidable game than Zverev, the man Llodra swept away in Saturday’s other singles semifinal. Llodra isn’t playing quite as well as Benneteau is. Moreover, Llodra’s semifinal was played after Benneteau’s match, so that means Benneteau will likely be a fresher player. The doubles semifinal forced Llodra - as the second semifinal winner - to play two straight matches, while Benneteau was able to get a breather. That might come in handy for the No. 8 seed on Sunday.

In the doubles, the accumulated strain on Llodra and Benneteau will be tough to overcome. Knowle and Lindstedt have been resting since Friday evening, and they’ll be particularly fit for the last match of the Marseilles Open. It could well be that Llodra and Benneteau will be denied a chance to take home a doubles trophy on the friendly soil of their home country.

However, the possibility of a doubles loss can’t change the fact that one of these two Frenchmen - Michael Llodra or Julien Benneteau - will win a rare and precious ATP Tour singles championship. It’s been some kind of weekend for two journeymen who - though playing indoors - are basking in the sweet sunshine of success.


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