ROLEX PARIS MASTERS From October 27th to November 4th 2018

Miracles do happen. For Julien Benneteau, his miracle was making the semi-final of an ATP Masters 1000 event shortly before his 36th birthday, after a sports hernia had threatened to bring a premature end to his career almost two years ago. He fell as low as No.700 in the world and had to drag his way back up the rankings match by match, at an age when plenty of others would simply have hung up their racquets. He got his rewards during a dream week in front of his home crowd, racking up wins over Denis Shapovalov, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Goffin and Marin Cilic, and justifying all of the effort that he had put in. "In singles, it’s the best week of my career," he said once again on Saturday as he left the court beaten but far from unbowed.

"Julien is a great guy, everyone likes him in the locker room. He certainly pulled out all the stops this week." This fitting tribute came from Jack Sock, who put an end to Benneteau’s run just as the final was beckoning. The American enjoyed a miracle of his own this week. When he opened his campaign in the second round, he was almost sent back whence he came by Kyle Edmund, who held a 5-1 lead in the third and final set at the very end of the day’s play on No.1 Court. Like his buddy John Isner however, Sock has come to love Paris, having made the quarter-finals here last year courtesy of some sparkling performances over Philipp Kohlschreiber, Richard Gasquet and Dominic Thiem. He repeated the feat this time around, coming back from the brink against Edmund before seeing off Lucas Pouille and Fernando Verdasco – the latter in a match that went beyond midnight as Friday night turned into Saturday morning.  

When he and Benneteau squared off with a first ever ATP Masters 1000 final at stake, his legs had every reason to feel a little heavy, but he had a major advantage over the Frenchman, namely his strength and hard-hitting, which enable him to occupy the base line and direct rallies from there. He gave Bennet' the run-around right from the off, ramping up the already heavy topspin on his forehand. With his legs beginning to weaken, Benneteau’s heart took over and off he went, scurrying left and right, hither and thither, to the net and back. Twice the Frenchman’s service was broken (to make it 2-0 and 3-2), twice he battled back using every ounce of courage he could call on (to level at 2-2 and 3-3). The third break was the charm for Sock though, who took the opener 7-5 in 45 minutes.

"It's not 'see you next year', more a case of 'see you soon'"

Visibly ruffled, Benneteau poured all his remaining energy into his service at the beginning of the second set, trying to conjure up one last miracle. His legs though could carry him no more, even when serving, and a double fault gave Sock a break for a 3-2 lead which soon became 5-2. The 25-year-old from Lincoln, Nebraska then showed no signs of nerves as he finished off the match 7-5, 6-2 in an hour and 18 minutes, having dropped just 14 points in ten service games…

"I gave it everything I had left but it was just a bridge too far today," said Benneteau, to continued applause from the AccorHotels Arena crowd who were on their feet to a man. "Jack caused me a lot of problems, and I didn’t have a lot of answers. He’s earned his victory." The Frenchman then confirmed that despite his success this week, he would not be changing his mind about hanging up his racquet at some point over the next 12 months, and definitely before the Rolex Paris Masters 2018 rolls around. "So it’s not 'see you next year', more a case of 'see you soon'…" he told his followers.

Sock therefore marches on, and on Sunday he will attempt to bag the biggest title of his career to date. "It’s really unexpected for me, after I had to come back from the dead in the first round (actually the second round but his first match)." His opponent will be surprise package Filip Krajinovic, the world No.77 who came all the way through qualifying to make the final of the main draw. Yet another miracle in a week that has been full of them.

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