European Open Features Both Homegrown Talent And Plenty of French, Too

Alexander Blockx (photo: Tennium/Belga)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 16, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

While the eighth edition of the European Open, which began main draw play in Antwerp on Monday, includes just one Top 20 player — World No. 7  Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who is sixth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin in his bid to return to next month’s Nitto ATP Finals — it also features homegrown talent David Goffin and Alexander Blockx. And, the French are here in full force — there’s eight players from France in all, including No. 4 seed Arthur Fils, one of the ATP’s rising stars, and 2016 Antwerp champion Richard Gasquet, who is seeded seventh.

The 28-player draw of the ATP 250 indoor hard-court event at Lotto Arena, whose field also includes Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, Dominic Thiem of Austria and Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp, began main-draw play Monday afternoon following completion of two rounds of qualifying, which started Sunday in the capital city of Antwerp Province located in Belgium’s Flemish region, and advanced four players into the main draw.

While the 105th-ranked Goffin, at age 32, is the most well-known of the Belgian entrants and once was ranked as high as World No. 7 before injuries derailed his career, the other, Blockx, is worth keeping an eye on.

In Monday evening’s featured match, Goffin strung together seven straight winning games after trailing 3-0 to beat No. 87 Quentin Halys of France, 6-4, 6-1, in just 57 minutes. Goffin won 92 percent of his first-serve points, which included nine aces, and hit 18 winners while making just two unforced errors. By the conclusion, Goffin had outpointed Halys 59-34 for his 10th win of the season.

“It’s always special to win at home,” said Goffin in his on-court interview. A Belgian has never on this tournament, something not lost on Belgium’s favorite tennis son. “Every year is different but I am happy to start with a win in front of a good crowd. I’m happy to come back another day.”

Later, in his press conference, Goffin said: “This is an important tournament for me. I have been working towards this and with the support of the Belgian public, I will try to get far this week.”

On Wednesday, Goffin will face either No. 8 seed Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain or 217th-ranked French qualifier Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard.

Meanwhile, from a Belgian legend to a young talent, Blockx is a 6-foot-3, 18-year-old junior No. 1 from Antwerp, ranked No. 646 on the ATP Tour, who won this year’s Australian Open boys’ singles title. He was awarded a wild card into qualifying. Last month, Blockx was a finalist in an ITF 25K indoor hardcourt event in Falun, Sweden.

Since coming home to Antwerp, the right-handed Blockx has made the most of his opportunity, First, he upset Serbia’s Hamad Medjedovic, who was seeded second in the qualifying draw, 7-6 (3), 6-2, on Sunday. Then, Blockx defeated his friend and fellow Belgian teen Gilles Arnaud Bailly, ranked 492nd, 6-4, 7-5, on Monday to advance to his first ATP Tour main draw.

Blockx fired 11 aces, saved both break points he faced, broke Bailly twice and outpointed him 67-59 during the 91-minute Center Court match. Next, he will play No. 5 seed Yannick Hanfmann of Germany.

Two other Belgian players, Zizou Bergs and Gauthier Onclin, were eliminated in the first and second rounds of qualifying, respectively.

Lajal is first Estonian to win ATP main draw match in five years 

Wild card Mark Lajal will always remember his ATP Tour debut. That’s because not only did he beat No. 83 Jaume Munar of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and nine minutes on Center Court, he’s also the first Estonian since Jürgen Zopp in 2018 at Gstaad to win an ATP Tour main draw match.

The 20-year-old, World No. 229 Lajal, who is 19-17 on the ATP Challenger Tour this season and won a title in Little Rock, Ark. in June, hit eight aces and struck 22 winners to just four unforced errors against Munar and outpointed the Spaniard 58-44. The victory in his ATP Tour debut — and his first Top 100 triumph — advances him to face fellow #NextGenATP Arthur Fils of France, ranked 38th, who is the tournament’s fourth seed.

In his on-court interview, Lajal said he was motivated by the wild card he was awarded by tournament director Dick Norman and owner Tennium. “For sure, huge thanks for giving me the wild card. I’m really glad for the opportunity,” he said. “This is my first time playing ATP [main draw], and I really wanted to do well. It gave me extra motivation. I was ready for it. … I like [Antwerp]. The center court is super beautiful. The crowd is really good, too. All the positives.”

Frenchmen Barrere, Gaston advance

A pair of French advanced on opening day. First, No. 72 Gregoire Barrere defeated No. 92 Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia, 6-1, 7-6 (5), to set up a second-round match against No. 3 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan. Then, in an all-French affair, 96th-ranked Hugo Gaston hit 29 winners in is 7-6 (2), 6-4 win over No. 82 Arthur Rinderknech to advance against No. 2 seed Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.

Love is … tennis and enjoying Belgian fries together

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem and Arthur Fils enjoyed a delicious Monday morning at Frites Atelier in Antwerp. There, the trio learned how to make Belgian “frietjes” (fries), a very popular on-the-go Belgian snack food made of thick-cut, floury Bintje potatoes and double-cooked. Unlike their American counterparts, Belgian fries are known for their crunchy exterior and soft insides.

… And the winner is: Arthur Fils.

Monday’s European Open results

Tuesday’s European Open order of play

Around the European Open

• Ethias NextGen Day, an inspirational day for Belgian tennis talent, took place at Lotto Arena on Sunday. “This new initiative offers emerging young tennis players from Belgium valuable insights to pursue a professional tennis career,” says European Open tournament director Dick Norman.

• There is a total financial commitment of €750,950 for this year’s European Open, up from last year’s €725,540. The winner, who will be crowned on Oct. 22, will earn €102,460 and receive 250 ATP Rankings points.

By the numbers

More than one-fourth — eight — of the 28-player European Open singles main draw is made up of French players. They include: Gregoire Barrere, Benjamin Bonzi, Arthur Fils, Richard Gasquet, Hugo Gaston, Quentin Halys, Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard, and Arthur Rinderknech. By comparison, Germany with four players — Yannick Hanfmann, Dominik Koepfer, Maximilian Marterer and Jan-Lennard Struff — is second.

Both countries are represented in the doubles draw, too. France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin is part of the top-seeded doubles team along with Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico. Meanwhile, there are two German teams entered: No. 2 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz and unseeded Constantin Frantzen and Hendrik Jebens, plus Andreas Mies is part of the No. 4 seed team with Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands.


“You are never under control when you play a guy [like Quentin Halys] with a big, aggressive serve. So, you have to stay in focus for every shot, every point is important. I had to refocus. When I came back in the first set with two good service games at 3-all, I started to feel more comfortable in the rallies and especially in the returns. His serve is his best weapon. As soon as I found my return, I was more comfortable.”

David Goffin of Belgium, during his on-court interview, following his first-round win over Quentin Halys of France.