Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Teenagers set the pace at Paris Masters

SUPERKIDS The shadow cast over the Paris tournament by superstars withdrawing through injury was lifted in spectacular manner by two young French stars-in-waiting

AFP , PARIS

French superkids Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga spectacularly lifted the gloom at the Paris Masters on Monday after the event had been plunged into controversy by the last-minute withdrawal of Andre Agassi.

Monfils, just 18 and ranked 284 in the world, defeated former champion Thomas Enqvist 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 to book a second-round clash against Australian superstar Lleyton Hewitt.

Tsonga, a year older and standing at 179 in the rankings, saw off Croatia's Wimbledon semifinalist Mario Ancic 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.

Monfils, who won the Australian and French Open as well as Wimbledon junior title this year, was just 10 years old when Sweden's Enqvist lifted the trophy here in 1996.

But on Monday, after suffering severe stagefright in a brutally one-sided first set, he launched a blistering display of uninhibited tennis to eventually wear down the 30-year-old holder of 19 career titles in six minutes short of two hours.

Agassi, twice a champion here and seeded five, said he had an injured right hip while Argentina's David Nalbandian, the eighth seed, also pulled out citing a knee injury.

World number one Roger Federer, former French Open champions Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain and world number five Guillermo Coria of Argentina all pulled out last week.

"The organizers of the Paris Masters deplore these withdrawals which have added to the long list of players absent both from Paris and the Madrid Masters two weeks ago," said a tournament spokesman.

"Whatever the reasons, these withdrawals from the elite ATP tournaments bring discredit to the circuit," he said.

Such is the concern that the directors of the five European Masters tournaments will meet here today to discuss the problem with many event organizers demanding financial penalties be introduced.

The withdrawals were a boost for defending Paris champion Tim Henman and Russia's Marat Safin, who have now secured their spots at the season-ending Masters Cup in Houston.

Coria, who hasn't played since July, completes the eight-man lineup in Texas along with Federer, Andy Roddick, Hewitt, Moya and French Open winner Gaston Gaudio.

Monfils was a quarterfinalist in Metz two weeks ago on his Tour debut but in the early stages of Monday's match, he looked to be heading for a quick exit.

Enqvist raced through the first set in just 24 minutes, blitzing the jewelery-bedecked French teenager, but Monfils then began to play without fear as his punishing groundstrokes and willingness to improvise paid huge dividends.

He levelled the contest after 67 minutes and could even afford to squander two match points in the eighth game of the decider.

There was a temporary delay as a spectator collapsed in the stands and needed to be stretchered away but Monfils kept his concentration to clinch victory on his third match point.

"Hewitt has his game and I have mine," said Monfils as he looked ahead to yesterday's match-up with the former Wimbledon and US Open winner with whom he has practiced this week.

"I can see it's possible. It will be difficult but possible," he said.

Tsonga wasn't to be outshone as his 122min win gave him a second-round match-up against 13th seed Guillermo Canas of Argentina as Ancic became his second big-name scalp this season after he beat Moya in Beijing in September.

Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan, saw off Argentina's Mariano Zabaleta 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 to book a second clash with third seed Henman.

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