French Open 2018

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PARIS — Madison Keys confirmed what most here know: the talk of the French Open has been the men’s draw. Not who can win, but simply who can play.

“We were all freaking out,” Keys said. “We were thinking, ‘When was the last time this happened? And when do you start running out of people who can go in the draw?’”

Eight men have withdrawn from the main draw of the French Open since the qualifying rounds began, more than twice the number at any of the previous 30 Grand Slam events. That left eight spots in the draw to be filled by players who had lost in the qualifying rounds but stuck around the site.

To answer Keys’s first question: 1982 was the last time there were eight men’s lucky losers at a Grand Slam, which also came at the French Open. (The record of 50, after a major player boycott of Wimbledon in 1973, is unlikely to be broken.)

The answer to her second question? Less than three hours after play began.

When Nick Kyrgios became on Sunday the eighth man to withdraw, citing a persistent elbow injury, his line of the draw was left blank. Only one player, 182nd-ranked Mohamed Safwat, had signed in to be a lucky loser that day, and he had already been used as the seventh alternate when Viktor Troicki withdrew just before play began.

Any player who had lost in any of the three rounds of qualifying — and who had not entered the main draw of another tournament this week — would have been able to sign up and would immediately be placed in the draw, securing at least an additional 20,000 euros ($23,300) in prize money. There were 83 eligible players, but none had signed in at the referee’s desk before the 10:30 a.m. deadline on Sunday.While most of those players had left town, many others were nearby, and simply unsuspecting of the opportunity. Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia stayed in Paris after losing in the second round of qualifying and planned to practice near Roland Garros on Sunday. As a second-round loser in qualifying, he did not realize he was in contention to be an alternate.

“I had no idea how the rule works, so it’s probably my bad,” Kokkinakis said Monday. “I messaged the tour manager yesterday saying, ‘Would I have gotten in? And he said, ‘Yes.’”

Lucky losers have been a focus in tennis this year, when a new rule was implemented that offered injured players 50 percent of the first-round prize money at Grand Slam tournaments if they withdraw before their first match. Its purpose was to discourage players with pre-existing injuries from abandoning first-round matches.

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The rule, which is being used on a trial basis, took effect at the Australian Open, where only two men and two women entered as lucky losers. That number has stayed the same for the women at Roland Garros, but quadrupled for the men, with another full day of first-round matches yet to begin.

The sixth and seventh lucky losers in Paris had daunting opponents: No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov. But the eighth spot offered a chance to face 206th-ranked Bernard Tomic, a qualifier who is at his least comfortable on clay.

The name of Tomic’s opponent in a match scheduled for Monday morning stayed blank overnight. The open spot would go to the highest-ranked player who lost in the final round of qualifying and signed in before the deadline on Monday morning.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked 183rd, should have been in pole position. But still four spots down in the order on Friday when qualifying ended, Gunneswaran decided he should enter a Challenger tournament in Vicenza, Italy, instead, rather than hang around Paris on the slim hope that four additional players would pull out.
That meant Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who lost in qualifying, could play in the main draw, but he had already signed up for a tournament in Italy. Trungelliti, in Barcelona, got the news that he was next in line while his grandmother, Daphne, was in the shower.

“I told her, ‘OK, we go to Paris,’” Trungelliti said. “There are many flights canceled, so I didn’t trust too much. And then there is no train now in France so the best option was always, was just take the car.”

Trungelliti, his mother (Suzanna), and his brother (Andre), packed up within half an hour and left at 1 p.m. Trungelliti drove for two hours and his brother took care of the rest. And now after all this, Trungelliti will earn at least €79,000 ($91,860) because of his first-round victory. He’s never won more than one match at a Grand Slam tournament (this is the fourth main draw at a major in his career). He said Daphne, who is 89 years old, was thrilled, even though she doesn’t know anything about tennis.

“She told me that she didn’t know that it was the end of the match until everybody was clapping,” Trungelliti said. “Yeah, she’s amazing.”

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