The Ultimate Tennis Showdown organised by Patrick Mouratoglou resumed at his Tennis Academy in the south of France on Saturday, with Stefanos ‘The Greek God’ Tsitsipas extending his winning ways, edging out Dustin ‘The Artist’ Brown, 3-1: 12-14, 18-13, 16-11, 15-10, to maintain his lead at the top of the league table, while Dominic ‘Domi’ Thiem’s debut faltered at the hands of Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet.
I’m going to win UTS, because every god deserved a crown! Stefanos 'The Greek God' Tsitsipas
The World No 6 took advantage of his opponent’s predilection for double faults to notch up his third win of the series.
The UTS round robin format featuring 12 of the best players over the space of five weekends is using a new format designed for television, which professes to more entertaining for younger viewers.
Traditionalists, however, will still be reserving judgement.
Flamboyant stroke-making came to the fore as The Artist blazed an early winner past the statuesque Greek God before pulling his man to the net with a delightful drop shot and hitting a backhand drive volley past his stunned opponent.
Both players opted to use the same UTS cards of ‘Winners count x3’ and ‘Steal Serve’, and it was Brown who was first to go for broke, hitting an ace winner to claw three immediate points back, before another double fault plagued him.
Tsitsipas followed suit immediately, as the 10-minute quarter clock edged into the final 3 minutes, the players tied at 10-10 with The Greek God losing both points on his ‘Winner x3’ card.
Playing the clock and utilising cards at the right time are key to this format, and Brown elected to steal serve with under a minute to go, and only a point behind. It proved an inspired decision, two big first serves sealing the quarter 14-12.
“The whole time I thought I need to serve better and I think after the first day everyone kind of switched it up a bit and I’m serving a lot better, so I’m happy it’s working”, said Brown of his choice of cards.
Stung, Tsitsipas cruised to a 7-1 lead in the second quarter, forcing Brown to use the ‘Winner x 3’ card to claw his way back, but The Greek God pulled away to level.
“It brings the best out of my tennis when I’m a bit pissed, and I understand that,” said Tsitsipas. “My serve works well and has always been working well when I’m a bit pissed so I guess I have the tendency to just be a bit more loose on the court.”
In the third, Brown hit a couple of late winners to claw back four consecutive points, but Tsitsipas edged further ahead.
An element of this format is that because a match is played over four 10-minute quarters, the fourth quarter always comes into play unless one player wins the first three.
In the fourth quarter Brown won both points on his ‘Winner x 3’ before earning a ‘Steal Serve’ to take a 7-5 lead but Tsitsipas hit ‘x3 winner’ to draw level before pulling ahead to a 15-10 win.
“I’m going to win UTS, because every god deserved a crown!” boasted a confident Tsitsipas before this experimental event began and he may very well do so but there are still many matches to come.
Dominic ‘Domi’ Thiem, who missed the opening weekend after playing on Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour in Belgrade, had an evening to forget, losing to 34-year-old Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet, who had his famous backhand on display in a 3-1 triumph.
With no prior practice of this radical new format, the Austrian World No 3 was quickly into his groove but on this day, the man across the net was in inspired form.
Gasquet was on inspired form as the Frenchman rolled back the years to defeat Domi, 3-1: 16-10, 15-12, 16-12, 14-17.
The classical one-handers traded blows from the back of the court before The Virtuoso was first to play his ‘Steal Serve’ and ‘Winner x3’ cards to good effect, opening up a five point advantage with a clean winner as his UTS experience came into play.
With the clock running down, Thiem opted to restrict Gasquet to just one serve, but the gap was to big to pull back and The Virtuoso ran out a comfortable 16-10 winner.
“Yes very good start, it’s very intense against Dominic, he doesn’t miss so much, he’s playing powerful, so I had to be ready and really, I’m playing very, very well so it was a perfect tie for me,” said Gasquet after the first quarter.
“It’s perfect [the format], especially when you play a guy like Dominic. I have nothing to lose, I try my best, I’m really happy to face him, so I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Gasquet maintained his momentum through the second quarter, establishing an early 6-2 advantage with a classic rapier backhand up the line.
It was a good time for Thiem to restrict his opponent to just the one serve for the next two points, and his UTS card paid off, before another classic Gasquet backhand redressed the balance.
Thiem was not playing badly in this quick-fire format, but The Virtuoso was playing tennis befitting his nickname.
When Gasquet ripped a forehand winner on his ‘Winner x 3’ card for an 11-6 advantage, it left Thiem shaking his head in disbelief.
Deploying a ‘Winner x 3’ card of his own, Thiem found an ace right on cue to set up a grandstand finale.
A late coaching time-out, of which payers are allowed four, was not enough to save Domi, and it was Gasquet who took a dominant 2-0 lead.
The Virtuoso continued opened up a 6-2 advantage and employing his ‘Steal Serve’ card to maintain his lead but the format lends itself to changing momentum and Thiem blazed some sensational winners of his own to get back within touch.
He found a x3 point ace to get back within two points just when he needed it, and it looked to be going to the wire, but Gasquet was playing the tennis of the top 10 player he used to be, rounding off the quarter, and the match, with a 16-12 win.
“I am happy, I saw it well, I didn’t make mistakes, my backhand worked well, I returned all the balls he served, so it was a great match,” he said afterwards. “I was solid from the start to the end, so it was the perfect match for me.”
The result means that Gasquet now has two wins from his three matches and sits third in the table, ever closer to knock-out qualification.
For the late-arriving Thiem, it is a result that puts pressure on him before his most anticipated matchup versus Stefanos Tsitsipas during a night-session showdown on Sunday.
In the day’s other matches, Benoit ‘’The Rebel’ Paire came from a quarter down to beat Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet, a substitute for Lucas Pouille, 3-1: 11-17, 17-12, 15-14, 14-13; and David ‘The Wall’ Goffin recorded the first whitewash of the tournament, beating Alexei ‘The Sniper’ Popyrin 4-0: 20-9, 21-6, 13-11, 15-10.
Spain’s Feliciano ‘The Torero’ Lopez repeated the feat at the start of the evening session, beating Matteo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini by the same scoreline, 4-0: 14-12, 14-8, 12-11, 16-13, to claim his second win at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown.
Play continues on Sunday and can be viewed on Eurosport 1 from 3.15pm.