The sensation of this BNP Paribas Masters, Jerzy Janowicz is certainly hoping this final will be the first of many. However, the Masters Series tournaments have seen a few surprise packages... Some of them took the trophy, the honours and the check before returning to their anonymity. Others had an honourable career, but far from their masterstroke.
1/ Roberto Carretero (winner - Hamburg 1996)
The Carretero case raises a question: how can one win one of the most important tournaments on clay and never kick on after? And when we never say, it is truly never - a second round defeat at Roland Garros, a Challenger title in Sopot, and retirement at 26 after a loss on abandonment in the anonymity of a satellite tournament; the most beautiful "one-hit wonder" of the last twenty years. Like the Beatles in their time, Roberto arrived as complete stranger in Hamburg. Making it through the qualifiers was already a minor miracle for the 20 year-old, lost in the wilderness of 143rd place of the ATP rankings. Growing in confidence, Carretero released his forehand. Arrese, Washington, Boetsch and Schaller all fell against the top-spin and care-free attitude of a boy able to chat up a female spectator between two points. In the semi-finals, the Madrid native notched his greatest success, beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov (7th in the world). The final matched him up against to another great hope of Spanish tennis, a certain Alex Corretja. Between two showers, Carretero got the last word. But it is Corretja who was to write the rest of the story.
2/ Harel Levy (finalist - Canadian Open 2000)
"Tell me who you've beat, I'll tell you who you are." He hasn’t much to do with it, but Harel Levy is undoubtedly the Masters Series finalist who has benefited from the clearest draw. In Toronto that year, the stars were missing. Half of the Top 10 stayed at home. Out of the qualifications, the Israeli beat the likes of Martin Damm (53), Stefan Koubek (47th) Sebastien Grosjean (27th), Jerome Golmard (61st) and Jiri Novak (55th). Not enough to claim for a feat? It’s forgetting that Levy - born in the Kibbutz of Nahshonim 22 years earlier - was then sitting in 144th place in the ATP rankings. One place away from Carretero. In the final, he faced Marat Safin, and the Russian made short work of him (6-2, 6-3). Levy would never confirm the hopes raised after his week in Canada, unless the fact of reaching the second round of the four Grand Slam tournaments is considered a notable performance.
3/ Alberto Portas (winner - Hamburg 2001)
Five years after Carretero, another Spaniard succeeded the perfect hold-up in Hamburg. But unlike his compatriot, Alberto Portas wasn't a total stranger, but instead an anonymous member of the Top 100. The Spaniard you would rather avoid in the first round (especially if the surface was ochre) and who could boast of a final in Barcelona in 1997, didn’t appear to have the power necessary for a Masters Series winner. But the Catalan had a specialty of his own - the forehand drop-shot. "You know that he’s going to pull it out, but he does it so well that it always works," said Lleyton Hewitt as a tribute, victim in the semi-final of what we will call "the breath of the dragon." Juan Carlos Ferrero also succumbed to the flames of Portas in the final. What happened next wasn't as impressive. Two months later, Portas missed nine match points in the final of the Sopot tournament against Felix Mantilla. Since then, we haven’t heard much from the dragon on the courts.
4/ Amos Mansdorf (winner – BNP Paribas Masters 1998)
We're cheating a little bit. In 1988, the ATP had not yet created its "Masters" Series, but the very young Bercy tournament was already a major event of the season. The best players of the world were rushing to Paris, starting with the world number one, Mats Wilander. Except that the Swede had to withdraw just before his match against... Amos Mansdorf, a 23 year-old Israeli whose career had been slowed by the military obligations to his country. Taking advantage of this helping hand of fate, Mansdorf made his way to the top, beat Aaron Krickstein and Jakob Hlasek, then members of the Top 10. Even the good work of Brad Gilbert had no effect on him in the final. After this brilliant Parisian feat, Mansdorf had an honest career and added two more tournaments to his name: Rosalyn and Washington. Not so bad.
5/ Chris Woodruff (winner - Canadian Open 1997)
It is hard to imagine an odder career than that of Chris Woodruff. The 23-year-old American revealed himself with a surprise victory in Paris against Andre Agassi. A year later, Woodruff was chugging along at 57th in the world when he arrived at the Canadian Open in Montreal. After a first round struggle against a local hero (Jocelyn Robichaud), the native of Knoxville beat Ivanisevic, Philippoussis, Kafelnikov and Kuerten in the final to take the title. Chris Woodruff might be a one-tournament wonder, but he did it properly.
6/ Bohdan Ulihrach (finalist – BNP Paribas Open 1997)
The Czech player is the antithesis of the player of a week. For almost a decade, Ulihrach wandered the ATP tour. The consummate journeyman, he was the kind of guy who never made neither good nor bad surprise, except for one week when he left that life behind at Indian Wells in the spring of 1997. Ulihrach even left the world number one Pete Sampras on the side of the road in the quarter-finals, as it was left to Michael Chang to finally master him in the final.
7/ Vince Spadea (semi-finalist - Monte-Carlo 2003)
Of Vince Spadea we remember - unfortunately for him - this disastrous series of 21 consecutive defeats between the autumn of 1999 and May 2000. In the heap, quite a few were on clay. Then, try to understand how this American, raised and built for hard surfaces, was able to find himself in the last four of a tournament like Monte Carlo, three years later. Frankly, we’re still wondering.
8/ Max Mirnyi (finalist - Stuttgart 2001)
For a few years, the great Max was wandering the double's circuit to get a nice pension. But in early 2000, the Belarusian had his hour of glory in singles to the great delight of serve-and-volley purists. In Stuttgart, he made his way to the final where he went down in straight sets against Tommy Haas.
9/ Jerome Golmard (semi-finalist - Monte-Carlo 1999)
Jerome Golmard had a talent inversely proportional to his physique. In spring 1999, the Frenchman was at peace with his body and was finally able to let his arm speak. In the wake of a title in Dubai, Golmard bested Carlos Moya (then second in the world) in the quarter-finals. Then French number one, the Dijon native was the biggest hope for France at Roland Garros... where he had to withdraw, a sad foretaste of the rest of his career.
10/ Frederico Gil (quarter-finalist - Monte-Carlo en 2011)
Ok, it was only the quarter-finals. But on the scale of Portuguese tennis, the week in Monaco of Frederico Gil still remains an historic performance. An average player on clay, Gil won against Sergiy Stakhovsky, Florian Mayer and, above all, Gaël Monfils. The great adventure stopped brutally (6-2, 6-1) and Gil has never retrieved that level since. As a proof, he’s only the third Portuguese player on the ATP rankings.
By Alexandre Pedro