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Rolex Paris Masters…Has Aged Well

By Mark Winters

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Going into the forty-fourth and last ATP tournament of the season, there was a great deal at stake for several of the Rolex Tennis Masters singles participants. When play began on October 29th for the thirty-sixth time at the Accor Arena, in Bercy, a Paris suburb, there was vibrant “Look ahead excitement…”

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, Andrey Rublev (Neutral), Taylor Fritz of the US and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland were competing for the two spots still open in the eight-man Nitto ATP Finals Singles draw. In the Men’s Doubles three slots were still to be filled at the Year-End Finals.

As it turned out, Holger Rune of Denmark had an “Eradicating Week” eliminating Hurkacz, seeded No. 10, 7-5, 6-1 in the second round and Rublev 6-4, 7-5 in his next match. Frenchman Gilles Simon, who was playing his final career tournament, lived up to the wild card he was granted defeating Fritz, seeded No.9, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 in the second round.

Rune’s storybook run benefitted, in the quarterfinals, when No. 1 seed Carlos Alcaraz was forced to retire after losing the first set 6-3 with the score 6-6 in the second. (Later it was revealed that Spaniard had suffered an internal oblique muscle tear on his left side and would be sidelined for a minimum of six weeks.) Auger-Aliassime, seeded No. 8, was next to fall. He was on a 16 match win streak but his tank ran dry and Rune triumphed 6-4, 6-2.

Felix Auger-Aliassime serves to Holger Rune. Photo: Victor Joly

His “Why Stop Now”…success continued when the 19-year-old dispatched Novak Djokovic, the No. 6 seeded Serbian, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the final to earn his first Masters 1000 trophy.

(A “Rune” is a mark of magical significance and the Charlottenlund resident, who defeated five players ranked in the Top 10 on his way to the title, had it throughout the week. In addition, on Monday, November 7th, he joined his former junior doubles partner Alcaraz, as a member of the ATP Top 10.)

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The doubles was just as fascinating, since there were three slots left in the “Trip to Turin Lottery”. Once all the points secured by teams during the year had been verified on the ATP abacus the winner of the semifinal contest between Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the US, the No. 8 seeds, and the German duo Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies squared off in a last opportunity contest to punch a ticket for Italy… After a 6-3, 6-4 victory, Dodig and Krajicek set about making their travel arrangements.

Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski taking the doubles. Photo: ATP Tour

Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, the No. 2 seeds, closed out a spectacular year downing Dodig and Krajicek, 7-6, 6-4 in the championship round. With the Rolex Paris Masters title, along with Madrid and Montreal,  Koolhof and Skupski scored a Masters 1000 trifecta in 2022 and also claimed four other ATP doubles championships during the season.

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When it comes to tournament longevity, the Rolex Paris Masters is one of the game’s oldest. Roland Garros laid claim to a tennis event calendar date in 1891. Then in 1895, Paul Lecaron and Armand Masson created the Tennis Club de Paris (TCP), in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, and launched the French Covered Court Championships, (also known as the French Covered Court Open Championships). Later it became the French Indoors and now is the Rolex Paris Masters.

Lecaron and Masson have been referred to as “sportsman”, meaning they were successful businessmen who played tennis…and as it turned out…quite well. In fact, Lecaron competed in the Men’s Singles and Doubles at the 1900 Summer Olympics held in Paris.

Masson’s daughter, Adine, whose name appears in some results as Nadine, dominated early French Covered Court Championships Women’s Singles play. She won the first four tournaments. Between 1898 and 1901, the Women’s Singles wasn’t contested. Masson returned to the winner’s circle in 1905 and again in ’06…collecting six singles titles in all. Countrywoman Germaine Regnier Golding matched the count beginning with a triumph in 1920 and securing her last trophy in 1931.

Lecaron and Masson financed the property rental, along with the construction of the Tennis Club de Paris’ four indoor wood parquet courts, (which were very fast), and the five outdoor clay courts. In the club’s early years, it became the location where the best players, such as Paul Aymé, Max Decugis and André Gobert, trained. In time, the Les Quatre Mousquetaires – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, René Lacoste – became TCP regulars.

In 1895, Paris native André Vacherot won the first French Covered Court Championships Men’s Singles on his home courts. Thereafter a collection of players from “Somewhere else…” were the men’s titlists. Manliffe Goodbody, an Irish tennis and football player, was the 1896 and ’97 winner. In 1899, a man with the intriguing first name of Major…in full Major Josiah George Ritchie, who had no military affiliation…claimed Singles honors as he did in 1902 and ’05.

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Continuing the Rolex Paris Masters lookback…Gilles Moretton, who became Fédération Française de Tennis President in February 2021, teamed with countryman Jean-Louis Haillet to defeat the British Lloyd brothers John and Tony, 7-6, 7-6 in the 1979 tournament doubles final.

Gilles Moretton and Cedric Pioline at the 2022 Rolex Paris Masters.
Photo: Victor Joly

From 2003 until 2009, Cédric Pioline was the Rolex Paris Masters Co-Tournament Director with Yannick Noah. This past February he was named Tournament Director. In 2002, he and Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten were 6-3, 7-6 Doubles finalists to Nicolas Escudé, (now the FFT National Technical Director) and Fabrice Santoro.

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Bercy spectators are as tennis knowledgeable as they are vocally direct. In 1996, Pioline experienced the fervor of the crowd in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 loss to Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. Walking off the court, he offered those in attendance the “Flagpole” salute and later said, “Tonight I am not proud to be French…” adding his finger wave was “…for a small bunch of idiots.”

The same year, in the first round,  raucous fans got the best of three-time tournament champion, Boris Becker. Carlos Moya, an unheralded Spaniard, sent him home, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 after which the German creatively offered, “It was the worst audience I ever played in front of. It was like Carlos Moya and I were big gorillas and around us, a multitude of animals were constantly trying to annoy us.”

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Rolex Paris Masters take-aways…

Beginning in 2006, Gilles Simon played the Rolex Paris Masters 17 times. His best showing was in 2012 when Jerzy Janowicz of Poland slipped past him 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals. His career concluded at the 2022 championship with a 6-1, 6-3 third round loss to Auger-Aliassime.

Gilles Simon farewells the crowd and his career. Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

Simon turned professional in 2002 and will be 38 on December 27th. Born in Nice, he is now a resident of Boulogne-Billiancourt, an exclusive Paris commune. He won 14 singles titles and in January of 2009, he reached his highest ATP ranking-No. 6.

He was a dedicated tennis laborer winning a total of 504 matches. Opponents realized that he could never be overlooked… He always provided a test…at times, it was one that could be daunting.

No matter the surface, Gilles Simon was always “a tough out…”

In the second round, Matthew Ebden of Australia and Jamie Murray of Great Britain surprised the No. 3 seeds Marcelo Arévalo of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands, 3-6, 6-3, 10-5. It was Murray’s 500th career victory. Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliövaara of Finland ended the season for Ebden and Murray in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 7-6

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The Rolex Paris Masters settled who would participate in the ATP Nitto Finals, taking place November 13-20 at the Pala Alpitour Arena located in Turin’s Olympic Park.

The singles contestants will be – Felix Auger-Aliassime, Novak Djokovic, Taylor Fritz (who replaced Alcaraz), Daniil Medvedev (Neutral), Rafael Nadal of Spain, Casper Ruud of Norway, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitipas of Greece.

The doubles teams will include – Arévalo and Rojer; Dodig and Krajicek; Glasspool and Heliovaara; Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios of Australia; Koolhof and Skupski; Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić of Croatia; Rajeev Ram of the US and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain.

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Traditionally, the Rolex Paris Masters brings the ATP tennis year to an exciting, enthralling close. Holger Rune ran the table and from current indications, he has the potential to age as well as the tournament has over time…

Title photo of Holger Rune by Victor Joly

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