x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

The advantage goes to the other guys

So-called 'lesser' tournaments, as well as the game's elite players taking a break, give the likes of Mikhail Youzhny a chance to grab the headlines, writes Paul Oberjuerge.

Mikhail Youzhny added to his seven career titles by beating Lukas Lacko in the final of the Zagreb Indoors tournament last week.
Mikhail Youzhny added to his seven career titles by beating Lukas Lacko in the final of the Zagreb Indoors tournament last week.

When defending the benefits of a long and extensive ATP Tour, Roger Federer in December noted that "it's not just the top guys" who are trying to make a living at tennis.

Fans got a reminder of that over the weekend, when 10 of the world's 11 highest-ranked players were recuperating from their exertions at the Australian Open.

Tomas Berdych, Mikhail Youzhny and Juan Monaco took advantage of the opportunities created to win ATP events and bank about US$80,000 (Dh294,000) each.

Berdych, the Czech, is ranked No 7, and he usually would not be considered someone crushed under the heel of the elite. But his victory at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier was only his second ATP title since 2009.

Youzhny's triumph in the Zagreb Indoors was a "where are they now?" moment for a man approaching 30 who twice reached the semi-finals of the US Open and briefly cracked the top 10 two years ago - but seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth, a condition he might have been able to describe vividly when he lost in the first round at Melbourne three weeks back.

Monaco's victory in the VTR Open in Vina del Mar, Chile, was the fourth in the career of the 27 year old and allowed us to reflect on the sort of oh-by-the-way trivia unappreciated when he is a third-round appetiser for the Djokovics, Federers and Nadals of the world.

Monaco once dated the Argentine actress Luisano Lapilato, who is married to the singer Michael Buble, and he has a sand-and-sandals thing going on: his favourite movies are Gladiator and 300.

The three events also allowed a little light to be shined on the losing finalists, Gael Monfils, the colourful Frenchman; and especially Lukas Lacko, a 24-year-old Slovak; and Carlos Berlocq, a 28-year-old Argentine. Both Lacko and Berlocq were seeking their first ATP titles.

The economics of tennis, a topic which Federer at least seems to have given some thought to, also can be seen working in the three "lesser" tournaments.

The Montpellier event is one of several in France, but the Zagreb tournament seems to be a sort of regional championship for central and southern Europeans; and the Vina del Mar tournament is the first stop on a four-week clay-court lap of Latin America, which seems the least the ATP can do for a region that has produced so many elite players.

None of the ATP finalists over the weekend are likely to be world No 1, and considering that all but one of the past 28 slams has been won by three men, we should not expect one of the weekend's warriors to be a major champion.

But these are the players and those are the tournaments that are the foundation that the greats stand upon.