Now this is a nice part of the World, pardon the pun, Nice, in the south of France on the way to Monaco. I travelled through Nice from St Maxime and St Tropez in 1991 as I made my way to what I still consider the pinnacle of my trip, Monte Carlo.
I played a hard court tournament in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, around 15 kms from Nice just after playing another tournament in St Maxime where I stayed for a week. Looking back I saw some great tennis clubs in France, particularly on the Riviera as they certainly do not spare expense or views in that area when it comes to tennis club back drops.
Just like they do with the Monte Carlo Country Club the tennis courts are built with the idea of a picturesque setting first, followed by the club, tennis on the Riviera defies logic. Where a hotel or apartments could perhaps have been built it is instead a place of magnificence to hit a tennis ball, the French are blessed with ideas of grandeur.
The Open of Nice is currently being played and an Australian by the name of James Duckworth has found himself in a rather unique situation that I do not believe has happened in a very long time, a one in a thousand event perhaps. For a battling tennis professional it is one thing to make it inside the World top 100 players but to receive a draw as 'Duckman' did well it may just be one of those occasions where all of those years of battling finally paid dividends.
Usually a player of the Australian's standard and ranking would come up against a player inside the top 30 in the first round, perhaps even a top tenner, check this one out, this is remarkable. Duckworth drew Frances Tiafoe of the US who has won a total of just under $15,000 for the year with a ranking of 291. A good young prospect is Frances and he has only just turned 17, coached by former clay court wizard Jose Higueras of Spain, a man who used to give Mats Wilander some nightmares on the dirt.
The Aussie just squeaked past Tiafoe, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2 and earned the right to play the top seed from France Gilles Simon, or at least that's who he was expecting to play. Little did he know that Gilles had withdrawn due to a neck injury and instead he received a second round match up with another lucky loser who was brought in to replace Simon.
Quentin Halys of France has won less than Tiafoe, just $11,000 and owns a ranking of World number 304. This is where the realistic side of tennis kicks in. Most people would look at the ranking of James Duckworth at 88 and expect a one sided affair against a player ranked outside 300 just as they would have with Tiafoe.
Both Tiafoe and Halys did not make it through qualifying, in fact Halys withdrew due to injury before even striking a ball against Sam Groth in the final round. They both received a 'gift' into the main draw as Lucky Losers. So a 7-6, 7-6 win by Duckworth was one that many would shake their heads at in disbelief but it puts tennis into perspective when dissecting the finer points of the sport.
Sure James received a 'dream draw' in the eyes of many but I am sure he was under no illusions as to the task that was presented to him just to reach the last eight. He made it through both matches by the hair on his chin and now he faces arguably the World's best teenager Borna Coric, a player with a current ranking of 53 and over a quarter of a mil' in the bank just this year.
Usually a player ranked 88 would be happy with an opponent ranked 53 as a quarter final matching but this match will be decided by mindset more than ability, these two are of similar standard. If our boy James gets over Coric he will then play Juan Monaco or Leonardo Mayer, both of Argentina who have clay on their toast for breakfast. These two have won nearly three quarters of a million between them already this year and they both know the intricacies of playing on the dirt.
So if anyone wishing to break into the elite group of World tennis is under any illusions as to how brutal the sport is then I suggest they do the sums on the tournament on the French Riviera that is currently being played. There were also around 24 guys battling for just 4 positions in the main draw who picked up between 350 and 700 Euros for not making it to the main stage. The 4 players who were good enough probably picked up around $12,000 just for making it into the main draw, double that for a first round win.
The 'Duckman' regardless of whether he beats Coric or not has made some good dollars this week, enough to pay his way to Paris where he will receive about $30,000 even for a first round loss, good money if you are good enough. Earning that sort of money while enjoying the surrounds of picturesque tennis clubs in the south of France sure sounds like a job worth having.
If only it were that simple..........
***FOOTNOTE*** Coric beat Duckworth 6-3, 7-6 in their Quarter Final match. As predicted, not a lot in it, one break of serve in the first and a whisker in it in the second. Only a few points and a sharper mind separates most matches......