18/10/11 - 18:00
Novak Djokovic has every reason to savor his victory. His perseverance finally paid off. By winning the BNP Paribas Masters after being defeated in four Masters 1000 finals in which he participated in 2009 (Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome and Cincinnati), the Serb finally warded off the bad spell which seemed to reign over him since early season.
Marian Vajda’s protégé, undeniably the player in form at the end of the season, did not take the title by chance. The week before the BNPPM, he had already taken centre stage by defeating Federer in the final in Basel, despite the latter being the triple title-holder on his home turf.
“Nole” was quite impressive throughout his week in Paris, easily doing away with Juan Monaco, Arnaud Clément and Robin Söderling. But it is without a doubt in the semifinals where the Serb plays his best tennis against the n°2 seed, Rafael Nadal. During the match, it’s a one-way street for Djokovic, turning his opponent into a mere spectator! The score speaks for itself: 6-2 6-3.
In the final, he’s up against Gaël Monfils, the French star of the week. On cloud nine, the Serb is ahead 6-2 3-0, after only forty five minutes of play! His forehand, usually his “weak” point, is electrifying. His backhand stunning. What was expected to be a nail-biting dual is turning into a non-event. But the Frenchman, greatly supported by the public at Bercy, fights for every point. He gets through the one-sided match and turns the situation around. After 1’35” of play, he ties it up to one set all (7-5). The POPB is on fire. In the third set, Djokovic is once again on top, taking the lead 4-1, but “La Monf’” holds on and levels the set at 4 all. The combat is magnificent between the two players. Each taking their turn to be on the brink both physically and mentally, neither is letting go. The trophy of the last “Masters 1000” of the season is going to be decided in a tiebreak.
A cruel double fault committed by Monfils gives the match to Djokovic after 2’43’’. This is the first title in Paris for the Serb in his fifth attempt. To think he had never made it to the quarterfinals at the POPB!
“I had lost all my big finals this year, it was a mental issue, admits Djokovic. I was tired after Basel, but I take each day as it comes and I gave my all. It’s an enormous win for me. Winning back-to-back in Basel and Paris is a great feat”.
This win becomes the fifth “Masters 1000” of his career after Miami and Montreal in 2007, then Indian Wells and Rome in 2008. A great reward for a fabulous champion.
The disappointment is overwhelming for Gaël Monfils. Two months after winning his second career title in Metz, Monfils was playing, in Paris, his first “Masters 1000” final. His dream was to follow in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s footsteps by taking the title, the latter losing to Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. So close to winning the greatest title of his career, Roger Rasheed’s protégé had a magnificent week nonetheless.
After being the best French for two years in a row at Roland-Garros (semifinalist in 2008 and quarterfinalist in 2009), the Parisian proved yet again just how much he cherishes playing in his hometown.
“I really like playing in France for the French crowd, confides Gaël. I love playing in front of my friends and my family, whether it’s at Roland-Garros or the BNP Paribas Masters. At Bercy, I feel so at home. And there’s a reason for that. When I was younger, I was a member at the TC 12 Bercy club. Right next door! We used to get tickets for the tournament so at the time I was really lucky to be able to go. But in fact, I was more interested in going to the mini-tennis courts which were set up at the venue
than seeing the matches. It was much more fun!”
Even though Novak Djokovic deprives France of a second consecutive BNP Paribas Masters title, the 2009 tournament is an excellent week for French tennis. No less than thirteen Frenchmen are in the starting line-up. A record! Four of them made it to the main draw from the qualifying rounds: Arnaud Clément, Vincent Millot, David Guez and Thierry Ascione. Once again, this is a first.
But the players from France sign yet another record: that of the most number of French still in the draw in the Round of 16. Five are still alive at this stage of the competition: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Arnaud Clément, Gilles Simon and Julien Benneteau.
The latter, defeated by Gaël Monfils in the Round of 16, claimed the greatest win of his career in the preceding round by eliminating the n°1 seed Roger Federer in a superb combat.
When, at 11:16 pm on that Wednesday, November 11th, the n°49 player in the world serves his 7th and last ace, synonymous of victory (3-6 7-6 6-4), he falls to his knees, the tears running down his cheeks. Overwhelmed with emotion, “Bennet” defines this moment as “the most incredible moment” in his life.
“This win, I fought for it, he continues. It’s magical to live this at Bercy in this incredible atmosphere. I can’t remember ever digging this deep and in this manner, with as much intensity and concentration. I knew I was going to have to be aggressive and that’s why I went to the net as much as I did”. Since 1973 and the creation of the ATP Rankings, Benneteau is only the 16th Frenchman to defeat a world number 1 player!
Goodbye Roger, once again facing deception at Bercy. And adieu Marat Safin, the Russian who had decided long before that his favorite tournament, the BNP Paribas Masters, would be the stage of his final farewell to tennis. This immense champion and three-time winner in Paris (2000, 2002 and 2004), lives up to his status. Defeated in a very close match against Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round, the former world n°1 saved three match points in the first round against the Frenchman Thierry Ascione.
The accolade he receives on centre court is in the image of his colorful, touching and warm personality. “Today I will put all my memories, all my wins and losses in a small box,” Safin said after receiving a special trophy. “Tennis gave me so many opportunities. Today a door is closed, hopefully another one will open. And I hope to have as much success in my new life, even though I know it won’t be easy.”