The organizers of the Metz tournament have announced that they are selling their date at the ATP calendar, as they couldn’t match the asian competition’s offers. Let’s look back on a tournament which, from 2003 to 2016, has helped to promote a lot o

The organizers of the Metz tournament have announced that they are selling their date at the ATP calendar, as they couldn’t match the asian competition’s offers. Let’s look back on a tournament which, from 2003 to 2016, has helped to promote a lot of young talented players but also a unique rasta specimen, a young father, and someone who had a serious fear of flying. 

 

A Midwinter night’s dream

The idea of a tennis tournament in Metz comes from him : One night, after a defeat, the Lorraine-born Julien Boutter was pouring his heart out on his friend Yvon Gérard’s shoulder. As the night progressed, the duo remembered the time when the region hosted an ATP tournament, in the 80’s, alternatively between Nancy and Metz. These late-night thoughts yet haven’t completely dissolved the next morning : Yvon Gérard had the idea of making this dream a real project. He would prospect in the area, while Julien’s task was to convince the ATP. A year later, the Moselle Open was born, thanks to Patrice Dominguez as well, who jumped on the occasion to « save » the Toulouse tournament’s date, which was cancelled after the explosion of the AZF factory. Julien Boutter should have played in the first edition of the Moselle Open, but as he had just gone through a shoulder operation, it’s from the stands, with a bandage around his arm, that he witnessed his buddy Arnaud Clément win. And that he prepared, without knowing it yet, his career change to soon become the director of the tournament.

 

Haehnel as a neighbor… and by car

Jérôme Haehnel has only won one Grand Slam match during his whole career, but it was against Andre Agassi, on Roland-Garros’ Central court. Jérôme Haehnel has only won eight matches on the main circuit, but five were won during the same tournament, leading him to lift the trophy. It was in Metz, in 2004, where this plane phobic didn’t need to take it upon himself to overcome his fear : born in Mulhouse, he came to play the qualifying rounds almost as a neighbor. He defeated Nicolas Renavand, Ramon Delgado and a certain Stan Wawrinka. Completely released from any form of pressure, he then defeated Jose Acasuso, Marc Gicquel, Arnaud Clément, Paul-Henri Mathieu, and, in the final, the great hope of French tennis, Richard Gasquet. But on the ATP circuit, you don’t get to play close to home every week. Caught back by his fears the following January, when he flew to the Australian Open, this ex-interesting junior (he won the Australian Open in the doubles, quarter-finalist at the US Open in the singles) went back to a life made of Challenger, Future and national tournaments - anything which was accessible by train or car.

 

Gasquet – Monfils, the first signs

If these two have known each other since their childhood, Metz was the first privileged scene of the first duels between Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils : three of their four first matches against each other have taken place there ! With the first, in 2004, where Gasquet, ahead of his time, defeated Monfils, who had been recently crowned junior world champion, in the quarter-finals (7/5 6/1). First ATP final for Richard, first quarter-final for Gaël, who had gone through the qualifying rounds : a truly founding tournament for this generation, with Gilles Simon also playing this edition after going through the qualifying rounds as well. The year after that, same place, same stage, Gaël took his revenge on « Richie » for their second duel (7/6 6/3). They went on to face each other one more time, in the semi-final this time, in 2009, with « La Monf »’s victory (6/4 6/3). Who went on to win the tournament.

 

Ljubicic, the promising youngster and the wild-card

When he won the title in Metz in 2005, Ivan Ljubicic gave the kick-off of a crazy ending of the year during which he also triumphed in Vienna, before reaching the finals of the Madrid Masters 1000 and the BNP Paribas Masters, going to the Masters and finishing by offering Croatia it’s first BNP Paribas Davis Cup in its history. With him, the future world number 3 brought in Metz a young sparring partner who had the same coach as him, Ricardo Piatti. The Italian asked the organizers for a wild-card for his protégé, who was ranked world number 97 at the time. The organizers hesitated, and refused in the end. The 18 year old-kid had to make a name for himself in the qualifying rounds, where he abandoned against the Russian Yuri Schukin. It was only a matter of time : the following year, Novak Djokovic directly entered the tournament, and won in Metz the second of his 66 ATP titles (still ongoing). 

 

Tsonga, mister ambassador

Inn 2011, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga decided to copy and paste Ivan Ljubicic’s end of season in 2005. He defeated…Ljubicic in the final in Metz, then won in Vienna (like « Ljubi » before him), played the BNP Paribas Masters’ final (well, well), and qualified for the London Masters (again)…where he was pretty close from overtaking Roger Federer in the final (lost 6/3 6/7 6/3, after having break points in the third set). Metz is generally considered to be « his » tournament : he won it three times (2011, 2012, 2015) and only lost 3 matches out of 21 played (Murray in the quarter finals in 2007, Simon in the final in 2013, Goffin in the quarter finals in 2014). A pretty serious record considering the tournament’s place on the ATP calendar, just after the US Open (or, before that, after the Davis Cup’ semi finals). 

 

Watch out for a second Zverev

He’s not even 20 years old, but Alexander Zverev already has a more prestigious CV than his elder brother who’s 10 years older than him, but who’s never been past the 45th spot at the ATP ranking. But in Metz, out of the two Zverev’s, Mischa is more well known : semi-finalist in the doubles in 2009, finalist in the singles in 2010 after going through the qualifying rounds (his only final in the singles on the main circuit), he also managed to get out of the qualifying rounds in 2012, 2013 and 2015. Mischa the left-handed loves the Arènes of Metz…and his diligence at the Lorraine tournament enabled the observers to witness the arrival of the talented « Sascha » who was always with his brother, his sparring-partner, who taught him, and very well, the secrets of the job.

 

Rasta racquet

The contrast is striking : on one side, Rogier Wassen, silent and stiff, not very talented but extremely diligent. On the other side, Dustin Brown, the Jamaican-German rasta - or German-Jamaican. The year is 2010, and the world of tennis discovered this specimen who was as talented as he was original. While Wassen was warming up very seriously before the doubles’ final, Brown remained sat on his chair, his legs folded, trying to focus on the challenge of balancing his racket on his head. A dilettantism at first glance which didn’t stop the two from winning the title, and Dustin Brown from clinching the first title in hi career on the main circuit. Rumor (or legend ?) has it that during the players’ traditional opening night at the start of the tournament, the same Dustin Brown stayed until the closing of the « Channel », a famous club of the Metz nightlife, rather early in the morning than late at night…

 

Simon, daddy cool

What do Gilles Simon’s two titles at the Moselle Open in 2010 and 2013 have in common ? Each time, he was playing his first tournament after the birth of one of his children. With Thimoté, born on September 2nd 2010, during the US Open, as Simon was preparing to face Rafael Nadal in the third round and Valentin, born on September 9 2013, the Frenchman having this time chosen to cut loose from the circuit to truly enjoy the moment. In 2010, he defeated Dustin Brown, Igor Sijsling, Xavier Malisse, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Mischa Zverev. In 2013, he didn’t even lose a single set against Kenny De Schepper, Sam Querrey, Nicolas Mahut and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ! There is no doubt : fatherhood gives you wings.

 

Pouille, full stop ?

2016 was the last edition of the Moselle Open, and it was paradoxically the one which has brought the biggest media attention with Lucas Pouille, French tennis’ number 1 hope, victory, just after having defeated Rafael Nadal in the tie-break of the fifth set in the fourth round of the US Open. In Metz, the player seeded number 3 put a great spread to win his first title, as he had only previously won Future tournaments : Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Julien Benneteau, before David Goffin, seed number 2 in the semis, and Dominic Thiem, n°1, in the final. That deserved a round of drinks offered to the journalists who were sharing the same train as him on his way back to Paris.

 

So French…

Arnaud Clément, Jérôme Haehnel, Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon twice, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga three times, Lucas Pouille : the Moselle Open was the tournament of the Frenchmen, who won 9 editions out of 14 played (8 out of 14 in the doubles) and with only three editions missing a local player in the final. For the organizers, it was an asset : a local in the final (and on the tournament’s record if possible) was the insurance of a success both with the audience and the media. But careful with the impression of a « national championship » which can derive from a too « franco-french » table. That was all the difficulties they had to deal with, to find the right balance…taking in account the economic realpolitik,between commercial rights  distributed to the ATP to have a date on the calendar, the prize money, and a system of garanties to get the best players to come. After having juggled for fourteen editions, the Moselle Open finally said stop.

 

By Guillaume Willecoq