The third leg of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown featured 5 matches at the Mouratoglou Academy in the South of France, and concluded Saturday’s schedule with a match that promised a lot from two of the tournament’s best shot-makers, David ‘The Wall’ Goffin and Dominic ‘Domi’ Thiem, and it was the Austrian who recorded his second UTS win by beating his good friend, 3-1: 15-10, 16-10, 13-10, 14-16.
I served well, I returned well, it was a great quarter. When I find a good rhythm on my serve, I can serve like that. I’m not saying I’m surprised, but I know I can serve like this and these conditions are pretty fast. Mateo Berrettini
Goffin surprisingly held a 7-5 head-to-head advantage over the World No 3 going into the match, and had actually never lost on a hard court.
This is a very different format of high intensity speed tennis, however, where speed of play and thought, added to the important the use of ‘UTS Cards’, makes tactics vital.
Unquestionably one of the most important factors in this experimental format is the use of ‘UTS Cards’ that each player picks 2 from 4 pre-match in order to give them a specific advantage, if used correctly!
The UTS cards
- -1 serve: Opponent gets one serve instead of two for next two points.
- Winners count x3: Each winner counts triple.
- Win in 3 shots max: Opponent forced to win the point with 3 shots or less (serve or return + 2 shots).
- ‘Steal Serve’: player takes away opponent’s opportunity to serve for two consecutive points
Thiem came into the tournament late, having played Novak Djokovic’s ill-fated Adria Tour event, and has played 2 fewer matches.
The match began evenly, but a huge inside-out forehand from Thiem saw a small gap open at 6-4 in the 1st quarter.
He was unable to carry the momentum forward and, at 8-6, up he sent a smash long when using his ‘Winner x 3’ card.
The Austrian’s ‘-1 Serve’ card proved more effective as Goffin immediately double faulted, but it took until the final 2 minutes for Thiem to improve upon his 2-point cushion.
Goffin failed to capitalise on his ‘x3 Winner’ card in the dying stages, and Thiem took the opener, 15-10.
“It was a very good quarter for me, for sure, and I think I made a smart decision taking the cards,” said Thiem after the opener. “I’m getting better and better every match, I’m happy, and hope it continues like that.
“I think it’s almost the same if you steal the serve or take the -1 serve. If the opponent has pressure, the chances are his misses that one serve.”
Some classic rallies ensued, and heading into the final 3 minutes with still 4 cards to play, it was ‘Domi’ who played his cards better, a ‘x 3’ ace giving the Austrian breathing space enough to see out a high-quality 3rd quarter.
“It was really close in the beginning but then there were those two super long rallies where I got lucky with a super high lob and those two points were the key points in that quarter, for sure,” said Thiem.
Under this new format, where quarters won can make the difference in the final count-up to see who progresses into the knockout phases, there was still important tennis to be played, and it was Goffin who lived up to his ‘never say die ‘reputation by taking a tight 4th that could yet prove crucial.
“It was tactically really smart of him [to take the time out] because tactically I had to decide whether to use the card or not and what to do on the next point so it was a super good decision by him,” said Thiem. “I had a really great feeling and it was a really great 3 quarters now, especially the last one at the end to keep the points long as the time was running out.”
Thiem improved to a 2-1 tournament record, whilst Goffin fell to 2-3, but both will have confidence heading into Sunday thanks to the quality of their play, assuming they recover fully from what was an intensely physical match-up.
First off on Saturday was Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet, who produced some scintillating tennis to record his 2nd UTS victory, beating fellow entertainer Dustin ‘The Artist’ Brown 4-0: 18-10, 13-10, 20-10, 18-8.
Moutet came into the match with one win and one loss, with Brown having something of a point to prove with no wins from 4 matches despite entertaining in his usual manner.
The German ‘Artist’ has now lost 11 quarters in a row after seizing the opener against Stefanos Tsitsipas before losing the next 3 last Saturday, and then going down 4-0 against an in-form Richard Gasquet last Sunday.
“It is very annoying when I am playing well and I am losing points for a very close margin. I am serving a lot better today and it didn’t pay off”, Brown, the World No 239 told the commentators at the end of the first quarter.
“Again, it is very difficult for me to play aggressively on this court,” he said after the second. ”Balls stand up too much. That is not my best surface”.
Later ‘The Artist’ was forced to pull out of Sunday’s action because of an ankle injury, and is replaced by Elliot Benchetrit, Thiem’s alternate during the first UTS weekend.
Next up was Alexei ‘The Sniper’ Popyrin, who defeated Benoit “The Rebel’ Paire, 4-0: 19-11, 17-13, 22-11, 18-16 in a lacklustre encounter.
The young Aussie used his UTS cards the better, and at the right time, to round out the opening quarter, 19-11.
“I had a clean slate, and finally got a quarter win,” joked Popyrin after losing all 8 of them last weekend.
Paire’s 15 double-faults and 15 unforced errors contributed to his demise.
“My serve was not good. My second serve was not good. It was a bad day,” he confessed.
Right shoulder pain over the past couple of weeks explains the French World No 22’s poor serving performance and lack of effort overall.
“It was good. I think I used my cards very well and I think these cards are working very well for me,” said Popyrin. “It’s not bad, better than last week, that’s for sure.
“I’ve only played Benoit once before but it’s always been chilled against him and we’re good friends.”
With the UTS format being best of four quarters, there was always time for notorious slow-starter Paire, who had fought back on previous occasions and although ‘The Rebel’ again had the better of the start of the third quarter, he was pegged back and lost.
Italy’s Matteo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini jumped to the top of the UlTS standings after beating in-form Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet with an impressive display of power tennis, winning 4-0: 13-12, 21-11, 12-11, 16-14.
Both players came into the match with a 3-1 record in the round-robin competition.
The Hammer, who opted for ‘Steal Serve’ to go with his ‘Winner x 3’, with Gasquet going for the same, took an early lead in the opening quarter.
In a classic match-up of styles, Gasquet fought back to draw level to 6-6 and opted to use the ‘Steal Serve’, but lost the next 2 points.
Although Berrettini chose to use the ‘Winner x 3’ card, he could not convert on either attempt and then attempted to steal serve.
Gasquet served with 30 seconds to play, made an unforced error and, but hit a huge serve to take the quarter to the sudden death, which Berrettini clinched with a huge first serve.
“I had to put the first serve in!”, said the Italian at the first change. “I have to focus on my serve, I know that I can serve good, so I focused with the time that I had, and it went well.”
In a match of small margins, there was little to separate them in the second quarter as Berrettini took a 7-5 lead with his powerful serve, and pulled away to 10-6.
The Italian struck an ace while using his ‘Winner x 3’ card to pull away to a 16-8 lead, with 2 minutes on the clock, and Gasquet could not claw his way back as Berrettini took a 2-0 lead.
With matches played over four 10-minute quarters in UTS, there was still hope for Gasquet and still much to play for.
The Virtuoso got off to the better start in the third, jumping to a 10-6 lead as the clock dipped into the final 2 minutes, but despite leading by 2 points and with a ‘Steal Serve’ in his pocket, the Frenchman missed 2 elementary volleys to lose the quarter in sudden death.
With The Virtuoso still boasting 3 wins from his 5 matches and quarters still counting for much in this round-robin format, there was still all to play for, but, in another nail-biting finish, Berrettini edged 15-14 ahead with seconds remaining before sealing the deal with an overhead winner.
“I served well, I returned well, it was a great quarter,” said a delighted Berrettini of his display. “When I find a good rhythm on my serve, I can serve like that. I’m not saying I’m surprised, but I know I can serve like this and these conditions are pretty fast.”
In the night match, Feliciano ‘El Torero’ hit the ground running, winning the first two quarters off Stefanos ‘The Greek God’ Tsitsipas, but the World No 6 took the match into sudden death and won, 3-2: 13-16, 14-16, 13-12, 16-11, [2-0].
“I wasn’t playing with high-percentage first serve,” Tsitsipas said after the first quarter. “And I think that cost me.”
Locked at 12-12 in the third, Tsitsipas faced a match point, but he won the deciding point to take the quarter after Lopez hit a weak backhand.
He then snagged the 4th quarter to send the match to a sudden death in which he won both points to claim his 4th UTS win.
Victory for Tsitsipas means that he now moves to 2nd in the UTS standings, with 4 wins from his 5 matches, behind Matteo Berrettini on quarters won and lost.
Sunday’s order of play is as follows (all times BST)
- 15:00 Moutet v Gasquet
- 16:15 Berrettini v Thiem
- 17:30 Brown v Goffin
- — Break —
- 20:00 Paire v Lopez
- 21:15 Tsitsipas v Popyrin