Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Far from Spotlight, History Is Made with a 70-Point Tiebreak

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Far from Spotlight, History Is Made with a 70-Point Tiebreak

Article excerpt

Two Davis Cup teammates from Monaco ended up playing what could have been the longest recorded tiebreak ever, finally finishing up 7- 6 (34), 6-1.

While the elites of tennis gather in Melbourne to compete for a record first-place prize of nearly $2.5 million at the 2013 Australian Open, a different sort of record excess was created on the opposite sides of the globe and the tennis pantheon, at a Futures tournament in Plantation, Florida, with a total prize pool of just $10,000 to be divvied up among all of the competitors.

The qualifying rounds of a Futures tournament like the Plantation Open serve as a sort of cattle call for tennis players -- mostly young, though some old -- looking to keep some presence as a professional player. The 128-player field is the size of a Grand Slam main draw, although most competitors in Plantation were unranked. To advance through the bloated bracket to the main draw requires four victories; some A.T.P. qualifying tournaments require as few as two.

At No. 636 in the A.T.P. rankings, Benjamin Balleret of Monaco had the sixth-highest ranking in the qualifying draw. Notching 6-3, 6-2 and 6-1, 6-1 victories against opponents ranked outside the top 1,000 in the first two rounds, Balleret moved into a third-round meeting with a player from his own small country: Guillaume Couillard, an unranked, mostly retired 37-year-old who has served as the player-captain for the Monegasque Davis Cup team for five years.

Couillard had only entered the tournament in Plantation to give himself some preparation for the principality's next Davis Cup tie, a February clash with Belarus. It will be his team-high 34th career Davis Cup appearance.

The meeting of Balleret and Couillard on Sunday in the third round of qualifying would have been somewhat remarkable in and of itself, given that they come from a country with a population of about 36,000 people and covering less than two square kilometers, or about three-quarters of a square mile.

The match did not start remarkably. The higher-ranked Balleret earned an early break and a 4-1 lead. Couillard broke back and leveled the set at 4-4, and four games later, at 6-6, a tiebreak was required.

There were only about 10 people in attendance as the decider began. This did not include any chair umpire, line judges or ball kids, but it did include a roving tournament official who watched courtside.

Couillard took an early minibreak advantage for a 2-0 lead, but the tiebreak was back on serve at 3-2. And so the two continued in the first-to-seven, win-by-two format, hanging within one point of each other for an additional 65 points.

Play became more economical as the scores went deeper into double digits.

"There were many service winners," Couillard said in an e-mail translated from French. "Exchanges were increasingly short."

"We know each other very good, so it was more tactics than nerves," Balleret said in a telephone interview.

"Near 20-all, I started to tell myself that it was too late to lose this tiebreak, that we were already too far in," Couillard recalled. …

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