There’s Plenty Of Star Power Lighting Up The Rolex Paris Masters

Novak Djokovic (photo: Rolex Paris Masters video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, October 31, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The ATP Tour has arrived in Paris for the 38th edition of the Rolex Paris Masters, the final regular-season and last Masters 1000 event on the 2023 calendar. There’s plenty of star power headlining the 56-player draw at Bercy’s Accor Arena this week, including the return of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, World No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, and defending champion Holger Rune. Plus, all of the current Top 10 players are entered.

The Rolex Paris Masters is among seven tournaments that Djokovic has won at least six times. His six titles in Bercy are twice as many as any other players in its history. Following Djokovic, Hall of Famers Boris Becker and Marat Safin have three Paris Masters crowns to their names.

Meanwhile, Alcaraz and World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev are also in the Paris draw and each is looking to win their third ATP Masters 1000 title of the year. They’re the only ones who have won multiple ATP Masters 1000 tournaments this season.

As main draw play began Monday, five spots have already been secured for next month’s Nitto ATP Finals. Djokovic, Alcaraz, Medvedev, Jannik Sinner, and Andrey Rublev have qualified. The three remaining places are provisionally held by Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and Rune. Hubert Hurkacz, Taylor Fritz, and Casper Ruud are the next three in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin.

Speaking of Rune, this year’s No. 6 seed has returned to the scene of his big 2022 breakthrough. After saving three match points in his opening match, the Danish star strung together five consecutive wins over Top 10 opponents, the most ever posted in a single event other than the Nitto ATP Finals. He beat six-time Paris champion Djokovic, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, in the title match. The achievement made him the youngest Paris champion since Becker, now his current coach.

Djokovic has always played well in Paris

Two years ago, Djokovic beat Medvedev in the title match, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Last year, the Serbian arrived in the City of Light on a nine-match winning streak and added four more victories before succumbing to Rune in the final. He’s 45-9 lifetime in Bercy. Djokovic will open his 2023 campaign against either fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic or Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina on Wednesday.

“I obviously had a fantastic year so far, winning three out of four slams and playing another final in Wimbledon. At the beginning of the year, I was saying that Grand Slams are the priorities. They still remain the priorities also for the next season and the tournaments where I want to do my best,” Djokovic said during his pre-tournament press conference on Saturday.

“So, I couldn’t ask for a better season, to be honest. One match away from winning all four slams is something I would sign right away at the beginning of the season if someone told me that would be the case.

“I have always learned something new about myself I think after every tournament. I try to correct things that I don’t like, whether it’s with my game, whether it’s with whatever, my attitude, whether it’s with approach, whatever it is. I try to be always the better version of myself the next week comparing to the week before.”

After trio of defeats, Fritz and Paul reverse American fortunes

Among the 15 first-round matches on Monday’s order of play, five of them involved Americans. After a trio of defeats suffered by No. 15 seed Ben Shelton (who lost the opener on Court Central to Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina), No.14 seed Frances Tiafoe (who fell to recent Antwerp champ Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan), and unseeded Christopher Eubanks (who was defeated by Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands), it was up to No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and No. 12 Tommy Paul to change American fortunes on Opening Day.

First, Fritz dominated Sebastian Baez of Argentina 6-1, 6-4, needing just 71 minutes to confidently advance to the second round. He struck 25 winners, including eight aces, and broke his opponent three times. Fritz, who received physio treatment on his left abdomen in the second set, outpointed Baez 60-38.

“I’m pretty happy, especially with how the match started in the first set,” said Fritz, whose best Paris finish came two years ago when he reached the quarterfinals. “I got an early break of serve in the second and luckily I was just able to hold on serve and finish it up.”

Then, Paul recovered from a first-set bagel against 37-year-old French wild card Richard Gasquet to win 0-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6), as a raucous atmosphere permeated Accor Arena for the night session. Despite some dazzling and spectacular shot making, Gasquet squandered three match points during the decisive tie-break starting from 6-3 and it allowed Paul to pull out a crazy, improbable win in two hours and seven minutes, after he was unable to close out the third set after leading 5-2.

The 26-year-old Paul kept his slim hopes alive of reaching the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. Currently, he’s in 12th place, 625 points behind eighth-place Rune for the final position.

“It was a roller coaster of a match,” Paul said afterward. “There at the end, at 6-3 in the breaker, I was definitely thinking about flights back to the States. I’m lucky to get through. It was a crazy match, one of the craziest I’ve ever played.”

Around the Rolex Paris Masters

No. 13 Alex de Minaur of Australia, who battled back from 2-5 down, saved a match point and won the last five games of his three-hour match on Court Central to defeat 2016 Paris champ Andy Murray of Great Britain, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-5. Murray, whose win-loss record dropped to 16-17, was attempting to win fort the first time in Paris since his magical run seven years ago.

De Minaur, who improved to 14-4 in first rounds this season, will oppose either French wild card Benjamin Bonzi or Serbian lucky loser Dusan Lajovic in the next round.

No. 16 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Australia’s Max Purcell by converting three of seven service breaks and outpointing his opponent 65-57.

Also advancing to the second round with Monday victories were: Nicolas Jarry of Chile, Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, Roman Safiullin of Russia, Laslo Djere of Serbia and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.

Meanwhile, it was a tough day for the French. They went 0-4 on the first day, including losses by wild cards Gasquet, Luca Van Assche and Alexandre Muller. Plus, French No. 1 Adrian Mannarino (ranked 25th) went down to van de Zandschulp.

Because tennis never sleeps …

Finally, burning the midnight oil on Court Central, in a battle of one-fisted former major champions, 108th-ranked qualifier Dominic Thiem of Austria outlasted No. 51 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, in two hours and 31 minutes. Thiem converted four of five break points, including the 11th game of the final set, and served out the victory. He outpointed Wawrinka who was making his 16th Paris appearance, 94-90. The match ended at 2:23 a.m. Paris Time.

Monday’s Rolex Paris Masters results

Tuesday’s Rolex Paris Masters order of play

By the numbers

No. 26 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain earned his 30th ATP Masters 1000 win (30-26) on Monday with his 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3 victory over No. 15 seed Ben Shelton of the United States. The Spaniard is now 12-4 against left-handed players in tour-level play, winning his last six matches.

“Quotable …”

“After a long year, I think almost every player has a little bit of problems in their bodies. I’m feeling in that way. I’m feeling a little bit of pain, you know, but I had a really good recovery these weeks. I’m coming here feeling well enough, you know, to do a good result here.

“I don’t know if [Novak] has more chances or me. Jannik, for example, is playing unbelievable. Medvedev as well. There are a lot of great players that are playing in high level, you know, so I think that the draw is really, really open, and a lot of players can win this tournament.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, during his pre-tournament press conference, assessing his chances to win and describing his own health.