The twelfth Paris Open takes place from October 27th – November 2nd. There are 48 players in the draw, and the 16 seeds are exempt from the first round. The prize money totals US $2,550,000, US $393,000 of which go to the singles winner.
The players’ level is once again extraordinarily competitive, as the last of the 37 players to have been allowed directly into the draw (the cut-off) is Hicham Arazi, who is ranked 36th in the ATP. The 37th slot in the tournament is occupied by the American Todd Martin, whose ranking is protected (he is n°14) following a serious elbow injury.
The winners of the four Grand Slam tournaments in 1997 are at the Paris Open: Pete Sampras (Australian Open, Wimbledon), Gustavo Kuerten (Roland-Garros) and Patrick Rafter (US Open).
Thanks to their victories in the qualifying rounds, the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, the American Jeff Tarango, the Armenian Sargis Sargsian, the Czech Daniel Vacek, the German David Prinosil, and finally the Swede Mikael Tillström, all enter the final draw.
Wild cards are given to Frenchmen Arnaud Clément, Nicolas Escudé, Guillaume Raoux and Lionel Roux. And to say they make good use of them is an understatement! The first three are, out of all the players, those who give the best performances in the initial stages of the tournament.
Then practically an unknown, Arnaud Clément beats Marc Rosset and goes on to the 2nd round where he tumbles honourably against Petr Korda. His doubles partner, Nicolas Escudé, hits even harder. After beating Berasategui (n°24), he crushes the Roland Garros hero, Gustavo Kuerten, in two sets (7-6 6-3) in the 2nd round. Although only n°123 in the world he has already earned himself a new nickname: “Scud”! And though his tennis still proves too “tender” compared with that of the Russian Kafelnikov, Escudé’s overall performance shows he has undoubtedly come a long way. And it does not end there: shortly afterwards he reaches the semifinals in the Australian Open!
As for Guillaume Raoux, he certainly displays his best tennis of the year. Dewulf, Rios and Bruguera are all knocked out by the Frenchman. Only Thomas Enqvist is able to prevent him from winning a place in the semifinals. Raoux is the only French player and, more importantly, the only unseeded player still competing at this stage in the tournament.
Right from the start the n°1 seed Pete Sampras knows that his 1st round opponent, the German Boris Becker, may just be the player he will choke on. The semi-retired Becker won the event three times, in 1986, 1989 and 1992…
Nevertheless, Sampras struggles through to the next round in three sets (7-6 3-6 6-3) and is then faced with two other tough rounds with Petr Korda followed by Thomas Muster. Having squeezed through with narrow victories over both Korda and Muster, he finally plays his best match of the week against Yevgeny Kafelnikov, beating him in straight sets (7-6 6-3). Although suffering from a troubled arm, he reaches the final at the Paris Open.
This is where he is suddenly faced with an entire Swedish contingent. Thomas Enqvist – winner of the 1996 edition – and Jonas Bjorkman are to face each other, the winner of which will go on to play Sampras in the final. It is not surprising that Bjorkman comes out on top, the latter having been without a doubt in much better form than his fellow countryman since the beginning of the season.
And though he loses to the all-rounder Sampras in the final, Bjorkman proves at the 12th Paris Open that his ability goes beyond his established reputation as a doubles champion. With this second Paris Open title in Bercy, Sampras now boasts 51 victories throughout his career, which means he ends yet another season – his fifth – as n°1 player in the world.