At one of the four French ATP 250 tournaments, the European hard court season that will culminate in the ATP Finals at London begins in Metz this week. A star-studded field have made the trip to the north-east of France to compete for the trophy that has been won by great champions such as Novak Djokovic and Ivan Ljubicic in the past. But a Frenchman has lifted the title seven times since 2009. Will that trend of French dominance continue in 2018?
Leading the field in Metz is recent US Open semifinalist and former world #4 Kei Nishikori of Japan. After a 2017 campaign disrupted by injury, he has had a fine 2018 and reached the final in Monte Carlo and the last eight at Wimbledon alongside his semifinal run in New York. But despite claiming an impressive 28 match wins, he has not managed to win a title and will be eager to change that at the Moselle Open. Particularly with the race for a spot at the ATP Finals heating up.
Seeded second is Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 19-year-old has had the best year of his fledgling career. The highlight was a thrilling run to the final in Toronto which included victories over Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Kevin Anderson. It was the second time this season he had reached a final after also making it to the title-match in Barcelona. But he lost on both occasions to Rafael Nadal and has never won a title. That seems certain to change soon.
2016 champion Lucas Pouille is the third seed this year. The Frenchman has not enjoyed a particularly fruitful season on the Tour though he did win the title in Montpellier in February as well as reaching the final in Dubai. He has also typically played his best tennis in front of his home fans and will surely be hoping to use their support again this week. So too will be Richard Gasquet, who like Pouille, was in Davis Cup action for France over the weekend as they beat Spain to reach the final.
Seeded fifth is Hamburg champion Nikoloz Basilashvili who arrives fresh from reaching the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career at the US Open. The sixth seed is another Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino. Mannarino has never won a title at Tour-level, despite reaching five finals including earlier this year in Antalya. But he is never an easy opponent to play against and will be hoping that his luck will change in Metz.
Rounding out the seeds are 2017 Bercy runner-up Filip Krajinovic and Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber who recently upset his higher-ranked countryman Alexander Zverev in the third round at the US Open. Also in action at the Moselle Open is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 Australian Open finalist and former-world #5. Tsonga has played just six matches all year due to injury and has seen his ranking fall outside the top 70 as a result. But, he has won in Metz three times, most recently in 2015.
First round matches to watch
Perhaps the most intriguing match of the first round pits Tsonga against defending champion Peter Gojowczyk. The German won the first and thus far only title of his career in Metz last year, denying Benoit Paire in the final, and he will surely be desperate for a repeat run. But Tsonga is always hugely popular amongst the French fans and his explosive attacking game can be impossible to stop at times. To add extra-interest to this match, the winner will face top seed Nishikori in the second round.
The all-German clash between the eighth seed Kohlschreiber and Mischa Zverev also promises much. Zverev, the elder brother of world #5 Alexander, employs an old-school net-rushing game, and he does so effectively enough to have reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last year and won the title in Eastbourne this July. Kohlschreiber may well have to be at his sharpest to deal with Zverev and avoid being upset.
This is one of the strongest fields at the Moselle Open since the inaugural event 15 years ago. And though the season is now entering its final stretch, a number of the players who have made the trip to France still have plenty to play for, not least Nishikori who will consider himself as having a good chance of making it to the Tour Finals at the O2. But expect this to be the week of Tsitsipas. His game thrives in quick indoor conditions and he seems ready to lift his first title.
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