10-hour road trip leads to French Open win for 'lucky loser'
ABS-CBN Sports on May 29, 2018 08:47 AM
Argentina's Marco Trungelliti returns the ball to Australia's Bernard Tomic during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, Monday, May 28, 2018 in Paris. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
By Howard Fendrich, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Eliminated from French Open qualifying last week, Marco Trungelliti headed home to Barcelona and was preparing to spend time at the beach with his 88-year-old grandmother, mother and younger brother, who all happened to be visiting from Argentina.
Then came word that the 190th-ranked Trungelliti could get into the main draw at Roland Garros as the eighth "lucky loser" replacing someone who withdrew with an injury from the Grand Slam tournament — but only if he returned to France in time for Monday morning's sign-in deadline.
"Actually, my grandma was in the shower," Trungelliti recounted, "and I told her, 'OK, we go to Paris.'"
So they quickly threw some clothes in suitcases — Trungelliti's was still packed — and hopped in his relatives' rental car for the roughly 10-hour, 650-mile (1,000-kilometer) drive due north, arriving at about 11 p.m. on Sunday night. The road trip was well worth it. Not only did Trungelliti get his spot in the field, but he won, beating Bernard Tomic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 Monday to reach the second round and guarantee himself a payday of at least 79,000 euros (about $90,000).
"I tried to treat it like a normal situation, a normal match," Trungelliti said.
Ah, but there was nothing normal about his story.
"It's kind of, like, the talk" of the tournament, said 13th-seeded American Madison Keys.
After all, who wouldn't appreciate someone seizing this sort of chance in this manner?
"To play in the main draw in a Grand Slam ... you don't drive," said Ernests Gulbis, a 2014 French Open semifinalist who qualified this year, "you crawl."
Trungelliti, a 28-year-old Argentine, lost in the second round of qualifying on Thursday, stuck around Paris until Friday, then traveled to Spain, where he and his wife live. On Sunday, his coach pointed out that 21st-seeded Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the French Open, creating a new spot. Another player who otherwise would have been ahead of Trungelliti on the "lucky loser" list was entered already in a lower-tier event in Italy, so Trungelliti would be the first alternate, provided he arrived in time.
It took five minutes to decide it was worth a try.
The problem: Some Barcelona-Paris flights were canceled, plus trains in France have been operating haphazardly recently because of strikes.
"The best option," Trungelliti said, "was just (to) take the car."
The quartet departed at about 1 p.m. Sunday, stopped for coffee two hours in, then ate dinner at 9 p.m. Trungelliti drove for a few hours, but his brother was usually at the wheel.
The voyage was not a big deal, he explained, because lengthy car trips are the norm in Argentina.
"If you're not living in Buenos Aires, then 1,000 kilometers is like nothing. You make 1,000 kilometers, and there is no city between," Trungelliti said, then noted that the main highway at home can be precarious.
"You never know," he added, "if you're going to be alive after two hours' driving."
Once he got on Court 9 on Monday, he felt at ease. No pressure at all. Wearing lengthy black shorts and a plain white T-shirt, his curly brown hair spilling out of his black hat, Trungelliti seemed to find troves of energy for only his third tour-level match of 2018 and 16th of his career.
And he enjoyed a star turn afterward, laughing his way through a packed news conference.
He does seem to like a big stage: His Grand Slam record is 4-3 after this victory over Tomic, a former top-20 player and 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist now ranked 206th who made it through qualifying in Paris.
Each previous time Trungelliti has won a match at a major — including two years ago at Roland Garros, when he upset 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic — he's lost in the second round. Next up is 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy on Wednesday.
"I know," Trungelliti said, "it's an opportunity."