Some shocks have already been recorded at this year’s Rolex Paris Masters, the last ATP 1000 level event of the year, which could well affect who fills the final three places in the eight-man Turin draw later this month.
For Carlos, it was not his best performance, but still, I'm happy that I can win... Even if he's not in the best shape it's tough to beat him. So I'm really happy that I made it. Roman Safiullin
The biggest shock is the removal of the world No.2, Carlos Alcaraz by the Russia# qualifier Roman Safiullin in the Spaniard’s opening match following a first-round bye.
Already safely installed in the Turin line-up, Alcaraz had set his eye on ending the year as world No.1 but that seems very unlikely bearing in mind the man he wants to replace, Novak Djokovic, has yet to open is Paris campaign, now scheduled for Wednesday against Argentina’s Tomas Marin Etcheverry.
Alcaraz hasn’t played since the Shanghai Masters where he lost in the fourth round. He then pulled out of Basel with a foot and lower back problems and while he admits to strong and positive practice sessions – ironically with Djokovic – he was unable to replicate that intensity on court on this occasion going down after 97-minutes, 6-3 6-4.
His game was littered with uncharacteristic errors which Safiullin was quick to make the most of with the Russian recovering from an early break to capture the 20-year-old’s serve twice for the opening set.
The Wimbledon champion did hit back as expected, serving out to love in the opening game of the second set and, once some electronic fault up in the overhead rig which was impeding Safiullin’s ball toss, was corrected, the match progressed with the players exchanging serves but, to everyone’s surprise, it was Alcaraz who cracked in the seventh game on the fourth break point.
Safiullin the held his nerve and broke again to seal the best win of his career on his second match point.
“I just didn’t feel well on the court,” Alcaraz admitted later. “A lot of things to improve, a lot of things to practise. I didn’t move well. In the shots, I think I had a good quality of shots. But physically in the part of movement, I have to improve a lot.”
He also admitted that he was expecting a tough match with Safiullin. “He didn’t surprise me at all, because I knew that he has been playing a great level these last few months, beating big guys, reaching finals. I knew that he was going to play a high level.”
The Russian, who was a quarter finalist at Wimbledon, was ranked outside the top 100 at the start of the year and is now standing at 39 but is set to improve with a good run this week.
“Since qualies, I was not playing at this level but against Carlos and these Top 10, Top 20 guys, you have to lift up the level,” Safiullin said in his post-match. “I managed to do it.
“For Carlos, it was not his best performance, but still, I’m happy that I can win… Even if he’s not in the best shape it’s tough to beat him. So I’m really happy that I made it.”
Amongst his recent successes he can name a win over Alexander Zverev in Shanghai and has now reached the third round at four of the past five Masters, namely Madrid, Rome and Shanghai.
“Everything against these guys [is important]. Tactical, physical, the mental part is very important,” Safiullin said of his success against the best. “[It’s key] to stay focussed from the beginning to the end… Who can make it longer is going to be the winner.”
On his chances now in Turin, Alcaraz added: “I have time before the ATP Finals, a lot of days of practice to be able to reach that level, the level that I want to play,” he said. “Honestly after the loss, I have to take some time before thinking about the next days… But obviously before the ATP Finals begin, we have time.”
Prior to Alcaraz’s loss, two other seeds had fallen in the first round,
Two Americans Frances Tiafoe (14) and Ben Shelton (15) crashed out to experienced players with Tiafoe falling to Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in a very tight match 7-6(3) 7-6(3) and Shelton losing a three-set battle with Spain’s Alejandro Davidovic-Fokina 7-6(4) 5-7 6-3.
Also out is Taylor Fritz, the 9th seed from the US and a contender for one of the final Turin places, but he has withdrawn from the fray with an abdominal problem and his place is now very much in peril.
“Devastated to have to pull out with so much on the line,” Fritz said in a tweet quoted on the ATP website. “All I wanted was the chance to fight for my potential Turin spot but after getting scans today on my oblique it’s just not possible for me to play. Time to rehab and hope to be back on court as soon as I can be ❤️🩹”
In other action on Tuesday, Alexander Zverev came from a set down against Martin Fucsovics to strengthen his chances of qualifying for Turin, defeating the Hungarian qualifier 4-6 7-5 6-4.
Two Russians are also through to the second round, Karen Khacahanov (16) and Andrey Rublev (5) who defeated Serbia’s Laslo Djere 6-4 7-5 and qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, 6-4 6-3 respectively.
Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo dashed Paris favourite Gael Monfils hopes in front of his home crowd after two-hours and 41-minutes, 4-6 7-6(2) 7-5.