DUBAI // Michael Llodra, who enjoyed a splendid last weekend in his French homeland, paid the penalty for his success last night when he was forced to shake hands midway through what was turning into a captivating Dubai Championships confrontation with his compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Llodra claimed both the singles and doubles titles in Marseille only two days before having to begin his UAE campaign. Those exertions coupled with the need to make a rapid adjustment from sub-zero temperatures and indoor courts to the ideal playing conditions at the Aviation Club took a heavy toll. After squandering three set points in an exciting tie-break which eventually went the way of the fifth-seeded Tsonga 11-9, Llodra realised that he would not be able to get through two more sets to secure another victory.
Pointing in the direction of his hips and thighs, he told the umpire that he would have to default, much to the relief of Tsonga who was in danger of having to retire through stomach problems. Tsonga, who lost in the semi-finals in Marseille to another of his compatriots, Julien Benneteau, was grateful to get off court much quicker than he envisaged to recharge his batteries in time for tonight's second-round meeting with Croatian Ivan Ljubicic.
"It was difficult because I was a bit sick today," said Tsonga, the former Australian Open runner-up. "So with the travel from Marseille, it was really tough for me. But I won. He stopped before for me. "So I will continue, and I hope I will feel better tomorrow to play against Ivan." Tsonga, who has been on medication for the past three days, had no intentions of quitting. "I'm a pro, and I would have continued even if I didn't have a lot of energy," he insisted.
"In situations like this you just try to finish your match. You never know how you wake up in the morning. Maybe tomorrow I will feel really better and I will play my best tennis tomorrow. So I will see." The Marseille fall-out also extended to Benneteau whose form here was a far cry from that which he produced on the French Riviera. He was sent packing in only 44 minutes by a ruthless Tommy Robredo.
Robredo is carrying a greater degree of responsibility this week, having been promoted to the top of the draw as replacement to four-time champion Roger Federer. The Spaniard rose to the occasion in his privilege position and made the most solid of openings to sweep aside what he expected to be a dangerous for the loss of just three games. Robredo, who had won only two of his six previous matches this season, sent down eight aces and did not allow his out-of-sorts opponent a single break point. Another victory today over Austria's Jurgen Melzer - a first-round winner over Simone Bolelli of Italy - would put Robredo on course for a third-round meeting with the sixth seeded Croatian Marin Cilic.
While Robredo stands in for Federer in Dubai, the onus of replacing the world No 1 in Davis Cup next week falls on Marco Chiudinelli and he gave little indication that an upset victory over holders Spain is in store. Chiudinelli, who like Federer is suffering from illness in the UAE, was a surprise casualty at the hands of an inspired Indian Somdev Devvarman, a player ranked 91 places lower than him at 143 in the world.
Devvarman, who battled his way through the qualifying tournament to earn an unaccustomed place in the tournament of this importance will today face the charismatic Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis for a place in the third round. That match will follow the Robredo versus Melzer clash out on Court Three. Nikolay Davydenko overcame a surprise first-set loss to beat France's Florent Serra 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, and the Centre Court programme opens at 2pm with Davydenko's match against Michael Berrer which will be followed by an intriguing all-Serbian affair between the defending champion Novak Djokovic and Victor Troicki.
Tsonga was granted his wish for maximum recovery time and he will occupy the final slot of the evening programme when he takes on Ljubicic. Britain's Andy Murray opens the evening programme when he takes on the third surviving Serbian Janko Tipsarevic. @Email:email@example.com