The Ultimate Tennis Showdown is an innovative competition organised by leading coach Patrick Mouratoglou at his academy in the south of France to help fill the void created by the suspension of the professional tours, and with matches split into quarters, a unique scoring system and mid-match interviews, it may not be tennis as we know it, but well worth a gander.
Oh my god, it’s so different. I didn’t play that bad in that set. I’m playing a 13-year-old kid, but it’s good mental practice for me. I have to keep this intensity. Alize Cornet
This Sunday, you can watch live coverage of the two finals on the BBC Sport website from 20:00 BST.
German World No 7 Alexander ‘The Lion’ Zverev faces France’s Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet in the first men’s semi-final, before Canada’s talented 19-year-old Felix ‘The Panther’ Auger-Aliassime plays veteran Frenchman Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet.
Russian World No 30 Anastasia ‘The Thunder’ Pavlyuchenkova takes on France’s Alize ‘The Volcano’ Cornet, who is ranked 59th, in the women’s final which precedes the men’s.
Cornet faced took on 13-year-old Brenda ‘The Prodigy’ Fruhvirtova, who is a product of the Mouratoglou Academy and earlier this year won the prestigious Les Petits As junior tournament, and experience prevailed on Saturday night as Cornet won in three, 16-11 16-10 13-12.
She took control early, slowly building a 13-8 lead for herself, at which point she put her foot on the gas by taking away a first serve from her opponent.
Fruhvirtova failed to handle the situation, double-faulting on the first point and then shanking a backhand. It was all but over at that point, as The Volcano oozed to a routine quarter victory.
“Oh my god, it’s so different,” Cornet said of her first experience of the UTS format. “I didn’t play that bad in that set. I’m playing a 13-year-old kid, but it’s good mental practice for me. I have to keep this intensity.”
“It’s something different without warmups,” Fruhvirtova explained. “It’s okay now, I think. I’m really happy to have this chance to play here, so I’m enjoying it.”
The Prodigy started to sink her teeth into the match in quarter two, especially when she won a pair of next point counts two points for an 8-6 lead.
Back-and-forth they went before the critical blow came with Cornet leading 11-10, when she interestingly played a winner counts three card even with her opponent serving, but the Volcano capitalised with a scorching forehand and with that the quarter was virtually over.
Fruhvirtova found herself trailing most of the third quarter, as well, but she fought back bravely for an 11-10 lead.
Cornet switched momentum back with a lob winner for 11-11 and a fortunate ace off the net cord for 12-11 and it all came down to the 12-12 point with no time remaining, for which The Volcano played her must serve and volley card.
Forced to get in behind her serve on match point, The Prodigy could not come up with a volley after Cornet put a return right at her feet.
“Physically, this format is crazy – especially if you have two or three rallies in a row,” The Volcano commented. “I’m really happy I could get through in three quarters.
“My level was going down and she started playing better. Psychologically, it’s hard. You cannot let go of a single point. Mentally this match was hard. I’m happy the oldest one won today.”
Thunder too powerful for The Warrior
Anastasia ‘The Thunder’ Pavlyuchenkova wrapped up the first day of women’s UTS action by sweeping Ons ‘The Warrior’ Jabeur 3-0 on Saturday night, producing huge forehand after huge forehand and every answer for Tunisian’s craftiness to earn herself a routine victory.
Neither used her ‘take away one serve’ card with much success in the first quarter, and there was little separation between the two the whole way.
Pavlyuchenkova had a chance to take complete control while serving up 13-9 with a ‘next point counts two’ card, but a double-fault kept Jabeur alive.
The Warrior briefly levelled up with an ace off the net cord on a ‘winner x three’ point, but Pavlyuchenkova took the next 2 points for a 15-13 lead.
The final point came as time expired, and The Warrior needed it to force an extra point. After a long rally, she netted a forehand volley to give Pavlyuchenkova the quarter.
“Honestly I’m dead, and it’s only one quarter,” said The Thunder, clearly exhausted.
“It’s fun,” Jabeur assured. “I’m getting used to the format right now.”
Pavlyuchenkova seized the upper hand in quarter two with a pair of ‘next point counts two’ success starting at 5-5.
Jabeur used the same card immediately thereafter but won only one of the points, leaving her behind 10-7.
The Warrior tried to get it all back with a ‘winner x three’ card on her next service sequence, but without success and Pavlyuchenkova built her lead to 13-9 with less than a minute remaining to seal her 2-0 lead.
“It could have been better, because I’m not really happy with my serve,” The Thunder admitted. “It’s bothering me. I don’t like it. It’s different – the first time I’m playing in these conditions.”
“I’m trying to find my rhythm,” Jabeur explained. “Yes, I’ve made a few drop-shots – but it’s not really working. I’m going to change it up for the third quarter.”
With momentum in hand, The Thunder came storming out of the gates in quarter three, blasting 2 straight forehand winners for 2-0, and benefitting from two Jabeur errors for 4-0, that soon led 5-0.
Sensing the kill, Pavlyuchenkova stole the serve from The Warrior at 5-1 and it worked to perfection, as she won the next 2 points for a massive 7-1 advantage.
Jabeur pulled back to within 8-7 and then levelled things up at 10-10 but that was as close as Jabeur could get to winning a quarter, as forehand errors came fast and furiously to end her chances and Pavlyuchenkova took the final 6 points to cap off her victory in style.
“It felt like a real match,” The Thunder concluded. “It was a great challenge and she’s fun to play against.
“It was kind of tiring; the conditions are difficult and she’s a tricky opponent… It’s been a while since [Cornet and I] played. But we know what to expect from each other.”
Men’s semi-finalists decided
Earlier in the day Richard Gasquet and Corentin Moutet won their groups in the men’s event, and will face Felix ‘The Panther’ Auger-Aliassime and Alexander ‘The Lion’ Zverev respectively.
In Group A, undefeated players Gasquet and Feliciano Lopez ‘El Torero’ faced off, with a guaranteed spot in the Final Four, no matter the score, and it was The Virtuoso who dominated the Spaniard to win, 3-1: 14-12 18-14 18-10 15-17
In Group B, however, anything could have happened, as Benoit ‘The Rebel’ Paire, Moutet, Fernando ‘Il Fuego’ Verdasco and Dustin ‘The Artist’ Brown all went 1-1 last weekend and winning the group not only involved having to win the match, but they had to do so by losing the least amount of quarters possible, as the number of quarters would be the determining factor.
It was the heat, not a high wind, that did in Paire, but The Tornado only added insult to injury.
Struggling physically throughout his round-robin match against an in-form Moutet, Paire retired in the 3rd quarter on Saturday afternoon.
The abrupt ending to The Rebel’s UTS campaign and Brown’s win over in the first 2 quarters against Verdasco sent The Tornado into the Final Four.
Zverev beat Auger-Aliassime to kick off the evening session, earning the chance to choose his semi-final opponent, and he opted for the lower ranked Moutet.