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By Chris Oddo | Friday November 3, 2017

The emergence of Julien Benneteau has been an unexpected yet welcome aversion to the Rolex Paris Masters this week, as the 35-year-old has reeled off big wins in his final appearance at his hometown event.

More: Isner Knocks Del Potro out of London

On Thursday the Frenchman notched his first Top 10 win in over three years and on Friday he made it two Top 10 wins at the same event for the first time in his career by securing an emotional 7-6(5), 7-5 victory over No.3-seeded Marin Cilic.

There has been a special aura about Benneteau all week—he seems inspired by his last trip to Paris, and he’s playing impassioned, clutch tennis. Even his first win, over 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, came as a bit of surprise, but after he surged past his compatriot and No.11-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga it was obvious that Benneteau was playing with all his heart in Paris.

Sometimes that can mean more than talent, especially at a time of the season when many of the tour’s star are run down and overcome by nagging injuries. But let us state that Benneteau has plenty of talent. Look no further than his two wins over Roger Federer, including one in Bercy in 2009, or his eight Top 5 or 16 Top 20 wins. Mix that type of talent with the hunger to return to the big stage and the emotions that come from playing your last event at your homecourt and that's a pretty potent cocktail.

Throw in an adoring crowd that has wrapped their arms around Benneteau this week, and it gets even more potent.

Benneteau’s win over David Goffin on Thursday set off a wild celebration on No.1 Court, a small, intimate venue on the grounds in Bercy, and he celebrated with gusto after claiming match point while fans went nuts and waved French flags in the crowd.


The atmosphere was even more intense on Friday. Benneteau is the last French player standing in either draw and he was bathed in cheers from fans that know of his plight. Talent aside, this is a man that will forever be known for the “Benneteau Title Watch,” which means that he has lost all ten of his career finals, and he’s one of the best players to ever go without an ATP title to his name.

He's a deserving character that in many ways has been jipped by the tennis Gods. Will he be repayed this week in full?

The lack of a title will always make Benneteau sentimental favorite, and when we add in the details of his recent injuries that pushed him out of the game temporarily due to a sports hernia and related surgery, he’s even more so. His ranking fell to the low 600’s last winter and since then he has worked himself back, using challengers and wild cards.

He finally worked himself back into the Top 100 prior to Roland Garros and enters this week’s Paris Masters at 83, but is headed way higher this week.

Benneteau will face either Jack Sock or Fernando Verdasco in Saturday’s semifinal. Verdasco, 33, has been an inspiration much in the same fashion as Benneteau this week. He reached his first Masters quarterfinal since 2012.

With fan favorite Juan Martin del Potro falling in his quest to reach the ATP World Tour finals, and the withdrawal of Rafael Nadal due to injury (after the no-show of Roger Federer), the shot in the arm that the fans have received from Benneteau and Verdasco has been the perfect tonic.

And as we head into Saturday, #BenneteauTitleWatch is still on. That’s good for Benneteau, and good for tennis.

 

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