The Ultimate Tennis Showdown is nearing the knock-out stage but Dominic Thiem will play no part in it after the Austrian, who played just 2 of the 5 weekend’s play, decided to take a rest ahead of his new ‘Thiem 7’ tournament due to take place in Kitzbühel from on 7-11 July.
That’s the Greek God magic. I am calling all of the Gods and they are there to assist me Stefanos Tsitsipas
The UTS officially reported that Thiem will not be competing in the final two weeks of the event due to ‘other commitments’.
‘Thiem 7’ will consist of eight players competing in the ATP Finals format, with 2 groups of 4 playing in a round robin and the top two from each group advancing to the knockout semi-finals.
The format is similar to that being used for the UTS in the south of France, and organisers confirmed on Twitter that Elliot ‘The Underdog’ Benchitrit would be taking Thiem’s place for the final two weekends of their event.
Thiem shot up the UTS standings last weekend, going 2-0 in wins over David Goffin and Matteo Berrettini, bringing his total to 3-1, having also defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas the weekend before.
He was locked into the fourth spot after that, behind Richard Gasquet, Berrettini, and #1-ranked Tsitsipas.
Thiem was on a roll and looked like a huge threat to de-throne the top two once the elimination stage started.
Luckily for them, they did not have to face ‘Domi’ (aka ‘The Dominator’) for the remainder of the competition.
This weekend’s edition completed the line-up, with the final showdown just one week away
Thiem’s exit put a large gap between the Tsitsipas and Berrettini, and for the third time in the competition, ‘The Greek God’ won a match after losing the first two quarters.
Trailing Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet on Sunday Stefanos ‘The Greek God’ Tsitsipas needed to win the third and fourth quarters, along with the sudden-death stage, where the first player to win two consecutive points takes the match, to seal his top spot on the leaderboard.
On Saturday he was in the same dilemma but managed to pull off a come-back win by edging Matteo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini, 3-2: 11-16 13-14 14-13 13-10 [2-0] at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Sophia Antipolis near Nice.
After Berrettini took the first two quarters, Tsitsipas sneaked the third by striking an ace while he was using his ‘x3 winner’ to take a 13-11 lead, and although the Italian earned a chance to draw level on his serve, the Greek took it, 14-13.
Berrettini then used his ‘x3 winner’ card when he was 6-8 down in the fourth but Tsitsipas played his card with 2 minutes to go to take a 13-10 lead and force the match to the sudden death.
When ‘The Hammer’ netted a forehand and hit his return long, Tsitsipas hit two consecutive points to take the win.
“That’s the Greek God magic. I am calling all of the Gods and they are there to assist me, but I had no idea I would qualify if I won that match,” said Tsitsipas.
“I try to concentrate on the present, that’s how it works. I felt a bit numb on the court in the very beginning.
“Berrettini was controlling the rallies and he was very confident. It took a while for me to find my strokes and my serve. In the third set I started playing my best tennis.”
On Sunday, ‘The Greek God’ had to turn things around again against Moutet, and after taking the third quarter, the fourth proved a relative breeze, only to split the first two points of sudden death before Tsitsipas won the third and fourth for the victory.
Tsitsipas’ 3-2: 10-16, 11-13, 15-11, 19-5, 3-1 victory means he is now 7-1 in the standings, while Moutet could no longer qualify for the Final 4.
“It’s fun,” Moutet said. “It’s stressful, it’s always close with him, so it’s stressful, but I like it.”
Tsitsipas was relaxed: “I think he’s playing great,” he said. “He’s playing the tennis of his life. I’m going to have to find solutions, keep pushing. I need to find my serve, need to loosen up.”
Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet slightly faltered last weekend but with Thiem out of the way, he consolidated his position on Saturday by cruising to a 3-1: 14-11, 15-12, 23-9, 14-21 win over Alexei ‘The Sniper’ Popyrin, to maintain his hopes of reaching the Final 4; and then sealed the second slot on Sunday with a 3-2: 18-10, 8-16, 16-13, 12-17, [2-0] victory over the 38-year-old Feliciano ‘El Torero’ Lopez .
The Frenchman dazzled in the burning sun with an array of stupendous backhands to romp home over Popyrin to his 5th victory in 7 UTS matches.
“It was solid tennis, I think I played better against Thiem, but I returned well and I was solid,” Gasquet said. “I didn’t make unforced errors, I think that’s why I won. I served well. The first set was pretty tight, but I managed to win it and that was important for my confidence.”
Popyrin, who went into the match 3-3 from his first 6 matches, was in touch early on but a few flashes of brilliance from the Gasquet backhand in each quarter sealed his fate.
“It’s a natural shot,” Gasquet said. “Some players have a good forehand; for me, the backhand is better.”
The Aussie cut a frustrated figure and could not find his mark as the Frenchman raised his game further.
Having opened up a big lead early on in the third as Popyrin let his focus dip, Gasquet hit back to back aces with his ‘winners x3’ card and cruised through the rest of the quarter to take an unassailable 3-0 lead, one stunning backhand return the pick of the bunch.
To his credit, Popyrin kept going in the fourth quarter and he reaped the rewards for his perseverance as he took it 21-14 to pick up a consolation.
Now 34 years old and 50th in the ATP rankings, Gasquet was twice pegged back to level terms by Lopez on Sunday, but he won the first two points of sudden death to claim his victory.
“El Torero’ fought brilliantly to force matters into sudden death, but Gasquet won the first point with a forehand pass down the line and then sealed the match with a brilliant ace down the middle.
“I was 7-1 up in the fourth quarter and lost it, so I was not happy,” Gasquet admitted. “But I managed to concentrate again and it was a dream to win it.”
Lopez had still held hopes of qualifying for the Final 4, dropping to 3-5 after his fourth sudden-death loss and he must hate the sight of Gasquet, who has won 7 of their 8 Tour meetings .
On Saturday he had fallen to Dustin ‘The Artist’ Brown, who had revived his game with a 3-1: 15-11, 11-19, 19-11, 18-13 win over ‘El Torero’.
Struggling mentally and physically after going 0-5 down last weekend and picking up an ankle injury, Brown was so low he was considering throwing in the towel.
“Last weekend I lay on my bed and I was thinking about how far I could chuck my bag out the window,” Brown said. “To come out and play like this, it’s a big difference, I feel good, I served well. Everything went well. I served well and finally happy to win.”
Outplayed in each of his five matches, Brown was on fire from the start against Lopez as he ripped winners all over the court, mixing power with touch as the Spaniard, El Torero, struggled to get going.
“I don’t have my legs today,” Lopez said after a first quarter marked by an outrageous half-volley lob by the German.
Lopez turned things around in the second, serving much better from the other end, and thanks to a fine start, was never pressed.
Brown could have let his head drop going into the third quarter but he produced an audacious flick to get his pulse going and stormed ahead 10-4, thanks in part to an ace on his first point with the ‘winner x 3’ card.
With Lopez continuing to struggle on serve, Brown ran away with the quarter 19-11.
The fourth quarter was nip and tuck early on but it seemed to turn on the point at 6-5 down when Brown slapped an unstoppable forehand cross-court to get back on terms and then, having fallen 8-6 down, he won seven straight points to take command.
Lopez’s last chance, with the ‘winners x 3’ card, came and went and Brown held on to take a convincing victory, while Lopez slipped down to 6th in the standings.
On Saturday David ‘The Wall’ Goffin lived up to his nickname as he blocked out all the drama coming from the other side of the net to beat Frenchman Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet and claim his 4th win in 7 matches at UTS.
‘The Tornado’, the world No 75 and one of the most promising players on the Tour, produced his usual cocktail of drop shots, incredible angles and general craziness, but Goffin stayed strong to take his record to 4-3 with a 3-1: 19-11, 12-14, 14-10, 20-7 victory.
“It was very, very intense from the start, some good rallied, some amazing shots, amazing hands, trick shots from him. You never know what to expect from him, he can turn things around in one shot. So you have to be very focused until the end of every point. I knew I had to be focused until the end because you never know with him.”
The fourth quarter was all Goffin as Moutet lost his rag, twice putting his foot on his racket and snapping them early on.
From then on, it was one-way traffic for ‘The Wall’, who followed up his win on Saturday by holding firm to make the Final 4 thanks to a hard-fought 3-1: 13-15, 20-8, 16-12, 15-14, victory over Benoit ‘The Rebel’ Paire.
Elliot ‘The Underdog’ Benchetrit had edged out Paire in a dramatic sudden-death encounter to end The Rebel’s hopes of making the UTS Final 4 on Saturday, and keeping alive his own hopes of qualifying for the last weekend.
In hot, humid conditions in the south of France, both men struggled at times but it was Benchetrit who kept his cool at the end, winning the first two points of sudden-death to snatch a 3-2: 19-11, 13-14, 13-10, 10-16, [2-0] victory.
Goffin’s Sunday encounter with Paire was one of the most entertaining matches of the whole event.
“It was not easy,” Goffin said. “Like I expected, Benoit was talking a lot, he was Benoit. He had fun, sometimes it was impossible for me not to laugh after what he was saying.”
Both men were laughing in the third quarter when, with the scores at 12-11 to Paire, Goffin called for his ‘winner x 3’ card.
Serving and volleying, Goffin hit his first volley towards the corner and expected Paire to go for something spectacular or just dump the ball in the net.
Instead, he lofted a forehand gently toward Goffin, who put the volley away with ease, and then burst into laughter as Paire revealed his inner thoughts, thoughts he explained to the commentators at the end of the quarter: “Don’t say anything. Did you ever see something stupid like this in your life?” he said.
Paire brought laughter, trick shots, brilliance and sheer craziness to the UTS, the perfect man to showcase the revolutionary format, but as the Frenchman admitted at one stage during the match: “David is a better player than me”.
On Sunday, Benchetrit claimed his second win of the weekend when he beat Brown 3-1: 17-11, 18-7, 12-15, 17-12 to keep his hopes of qualifying for the Final 4 alive.
Victory for the 21-year-old means he is now 5th in the standings and in the hunt for the UTS title.
Benchetrit began brilliantly, taking the first two quarters but ‘The Artist’ fought back well to win the third, including a behind the back lob.
The fourth quarter was tied at 10-10 until Benchetrit hit back-to-back aces with his ‘winner x3’ card to seal victory.
“Yesterday against Benoit was a very tough match, especially mentally,” he said. “He was trying to get in my concentration. Dustin was a bit more calm so I was feeling more easy.”
And so the semi-finals are now settled, only the positioning of the semi-finalists remains undetermined.
Aside from Paire’s lack-luster record, the UTS standings are unsurprising with one weekend to go.
Tsitsipas and Goffin backed up their resumes with semi-final showings in Nice, while Berrettini was a US Open semi-finalist less than 12 months ago, and has rediscovered his form, winning 21 quarters and losing just 12, and Gasquet’s second place spot reflects the veteran’s career skills.
The last day of regular play is Saturday, 11 July, with the final on Sunday, 12 July. Both can be watched on Eurosport or UTSlive.tv.