French Open: Lucky loser Marco Trungelliti hits jackpot after marathon journey

Given the thousands of professional tennis players, it's only a tiny minority of 128 men and women who make the main ...

Posted: May 29, 2018 1:08 PM
Updated: May 29, 2018 1:08 PM

Given the thousands of professional tennis players, it's only a tiny minority of 128 men and women who make the main draw of a grand slam.

Indeed, for the majority of the 1,977 who are ranked overall in the three tiers of men's professional tennis, it is not about winning a grand slam title but simply being in the hat. First-round prize money can cover expenses for a while on the 11-month tennis tour.

Lucky loser Marco Trungelliti beats Bernard Tomic at French Open

Argentine drove 10 hours Sunday to return to Paris after qualifying exit

Novak Djokovic, Petra Kvitova win, but Victoria Azarenka, Stan Wawrinka lose

Rafael Nadal led by two sets before rain stopped play

Which is why Argentina's Marco Trungelliti was willing to go to great lengths to make the French Open. And now he is into the second round to boot.

READ: Who can stop Nadal?

Trungelliti has only played 16 matches at the highest level -- as opposed to 434 in tennis' minor leagues. So when the 28-year-old learned he had a chance to reach the promised land of a major, he wasn't going to bypass the opportunity despite a long trek.

He originally lost in the final round of qualifying Thursday to Poland's Hubert Hurkacz, which should have been the end of his tale. But as more and more spots opened up in the draw for lucky losers -- an eighth berth materialized courtesy of Nick Kyrgios' departure Sunday -- Trungelliti suddenly had a way in.

In Barcelona, where he resides, Trungelliti set off on the 1,000-kilometer road trip in a car with his brother, mum and 88-year-old grandma, who were all visiting.

They reached the French capital shortly before midnight Sunday. With intermittent coffee breaks, the journey lasted a draining 10 hours.

Grandma in shower

"Actually, my grandma was in the shower and I told her, 'OK, we go to Paris,'" Trungelliti said. "There are many flights canceled, so I didn't trust (that) too much. And then there is no train now (to) France so the best option was always, just take the car."

The world No. 190 didn't have much time to ready for his opener -- his match was scheduled for the earliest slot of 11 a.m. -- but still beat someone else who was in the qualifying draw, Bernard Tomic, 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-4.

Grandma Daphne celebrated, eventually.

"She has no idea what tennis is, really," Trungelliti said. "Actually, she told me that she didn't know that it was the end of the match until everybody was clapping."

He is guaranteed to leave the tournament 99,000 euros ($115,000) richer even if he loses to Italy's Marco Cecchinato Wednesday, a mammoth sum given his career tally in 10 years entering the French Open sat at $578,000. Cecchinato won the Budapest title in April as a lucky loser.

The eight lucky losers are the guaranteed most in the men's draw of a grand slam since 2000, said the ITF. There were only two at this year's Australian Open and five altogether in 2017.

The high number may have something to do with a rule change at grand slams this year: Players who pull out prior to their first-round match still get half of the prize money, with the other half going to the lucky loser.

It was implemented to lessen retirements or lopsided matches when players take to court injured or unwell.

Normally a player like Trungelliti would only be interviewed by journalists from his country -- if that -- but such was the interest in his fable that he was brought to the main interview room at Roland Garros.

Rare to use social media, he said it was his wife that got the word out about his unlikely path to the 16th arrondissement.

Big crowd

"I never had a press conference with so many people. Not even when I played against (Marin) Cilic two years ago," said Trungelliti, referring to his win against the 2014 US Open champion at Roland Garros.

Tomic is regarded as one of the bad boys in tennis -- his fellow Australian, Kyrgios, is trying to shed that reputation -- telling reporters he was going to count his "millions" after he fell in January's Australian Open qualifying.

While Tomic may trump Trungelliti's bank balance, he is seemingly trying to resurrect a career that saw him reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals and 17th in the world two years ago. Fighting his way through qualifying on his least favorite surface is not a bad start.

Tomic, however, was in no mood to talk Monday, offering up 15 short sentences to 10 questions in his mandatory post-match news conference.

Elsewhere, there were mixed fortunes for the comeback quartet of Victoria Azarenka, Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Petra Kvitova. Clay king Rafael Nadal led Simone Bolelli by two sets when rain forced the conclusion of the tussle to be pushed back to Tuesday, right before Serena Williams makes her own grand slam comeback.

READ: Djokovic's rebirth?

Only recently able to travel outside California in the aftermath of a custody dispute, Azarenka lost to former highly-rated junior Katerina Siniakova 7-5 7-5. Clay has traditionally been the twice grand slam winner's least productive surface and she had a mere three warmup matches on the dirt.

Former champ out

Wawrinka only resurfaced from three months out due to his troublesome knee last week and the 2015 winner and 2017 finalist succumbed to his fellow tour veteran, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, for a second time at the French Open. His 6-2 3-6 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 reverse will see the Swiss exit the top 200.

"If I have to play some Challengers, I have no problem with that," said Wawrinka. "I won three grand slams in my career and I know what it takes to do it. And my goal is to get to my top. Sooner or later I will be."

Djokovic gained momentum by testing Nadal in the semifinals of the Rome Masters this month. It was a much needed boost of confidence after a pair of demoralizing defeats in Indian Wells and Miami in March and falling to the talented but then-ranked No. 140 Martin Klizan in Barcelona.

The Serb -- who won four straight majors from 2015-2016, completing the job in Paris -- defeated Brazil's Rogerio Dutra Silva 6-3 6-4 6-4. As far as first matches at grand slams go, it was about right for Djokovic. He hit plenty of tennis balls, acclimatizing to the heavy conditions, but still won in straight sets.

Kvitova contested her first tournament of 2017 at the French Open following a knife attack in her home five months earlier that left her with nerve damage to her left, playing hand.

Twelve months ago the Czech was simply happy to back. Now she is one of the contenders after claiming four titles in 2018, including two on the clay.

READ: Kvitova's 'dream' season

Visit our tennis page for more stories and content

The twice Wimbledon winner had a tough opener -- against a clay-court specialist who made the fourth round last year, Veronica Cepede Royg -- but prevailed 3-6 6-1 7-5. Also advancing was Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who overcame one of this year's breakthrough players on the women's tour, Danielle Collins, 7-6 (7-2) 6-1.

Nadal, bidding for a record-extending 11th French Open title, won the first two sets 6-4 6-3 though trailed 3-0 in the third. Bolelli is a lucky loser like Trungelliti but his route to the main draw wasn't as complicated.

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