Tommy Paul seeks Grand Slam success at French Open

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Tommy Paul paid close attention as his friends and countrymen Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka produced headline-worthy performances at the Australian Open.

Now Paul aims to make his own Grand Slam breakthrough when he heads to his first French Open main draw in two weeks, thanks to winning the U.S. Tennis Association men’s wild-card challenge.

“I’ve known Frances since I was 9. Known Reilly since I was 10. Known Fritz since I was 13. I love seeing them do well,” Paul said in a telephone interview. “I know how hard every single one of them works. All of them deserve it.”

At Melbourne in January, Tiafoe made his first major quarterfinal before losing to Rafael Nadal. Fritz got to the third round there for the first time before bowing out against Roger Federer. Opelka earned his first Grand Slam match win by upsetting No. 9 seed John Isner.

“Obviously, it’s a little bit of a motivator for me, because I see them doing that well in the tournaments and working so hard in practice – and I’m working just as hard as them,” said Paul, who grew up in North Carolina and now is based at the USTA national campus in Florida. “And I want to be exactly where they were during the Australian Open.”

Each member of that American quartet is 21; Paul turns 22 on Friday. They went through the junior ranks together and now give the country a crop of young talent pushing its way up the ranks in the pros.

“It’s a group that kind of came up together. Did really, really well at the junior level,” said Martin Blackman, the general manager of USTA player development. “They push each other, because … they all believe they can do similar things, I think. That positive peer pressure is a really healthy dynamic.”

Lauren Davis, a 25-year-old from Ohio, clinched the USTA women’s wild-card berth Sunday to secure a seventh French Open appearance. Davis is a former top-30 player whose ranking dropped to No. 264 last year after she sat out the clay-court circuit, citing fatigue.

Paul was the French Open junior champion in 2015, beating Fritz in the final to become only the second U.S. player since John McEnroe in 1977 to win the boys’ title there. Fritz defeated Paul in that year’s U.S. Open junior final.

At Roland Garros, where play begins May 26, Paul will be contesting his third main draw at a major tournament, after a pair of U.S. Open appearances.

Unlike many Americans over the years, he has an affinity for the slow surface used in Paris. That’s because he learned to play tennis on green clay.

“It was all we practiced on, all I played on, growing up. All I really knew,” Paul said. “I feel like it’s more like a crafty surface. You can mix in drop shots and you have to play a lot more different balls. A lot more factors into the game.”

Despite missing months at a time last season with an injured right elbow, and again this season because of a problematic left knee, he reached a career-high 136th in the ATP rankings last week.

“I’ve just been really impressed by how he’s worked and rehabbed. Just watching him put the work in every day. Taking care of his body. Taking ownership. Becoming more mature,” the USTA’s Blackman said. “That shows the self-awareness and maturity that’s just a huge part of a player being able to maximize their potential.”

Paul’s goal at the moment is to get into the top 50 by the end of the season; he knows the French Open provides an opportunity to take strides toward that.

He says “every part of my game has room for improvement,” and thinks the key is “having more of an open mind about trying to improve everything – off the court, especially.”

He went on: “Just doing everything a little bit more professional now. … Working with a psychologist on breathing or what to be thinking at certain times of a match. Or diet stuff, making sure I’m eating healthy. Doing my recovery. Talking to my team, to my coaches, to my agents, to my parents. Making sure everybody’s in the loop and we’re all doing everything we can to boost my game.”

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.

Mikael Ymer fined about $40K after default for hitting umpire stand with racket

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

PARIS — Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer was docked about $40,000 after being disqualified for smashing his racket against the umpire’s chair at a tournament the week before he competed at the French Open.

An ATP Tour spokesman said Ymer forfeited about $10,500 in prize money and 20 rankings he earned for reaching the second round of the Lyon Open. Ymer also was handed an on-site fine of about $29,000.

The spokesman said the ATP Fines Committee will conduct a review of what happened to determine whether any additional penalties are warranted.

The 56th-ranked Ymer, who is 24 and owns a victory over current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, was defaulted in Lyon for an outburst late in the first set against French teenager Arthur Fils last week.

Ymer was upset that the chair umpire would not check a ball mark after a shot by Fils landed near a line. As the players went to the sideline for the ensuing changeover, Ymer smacked the base of the umpire’s stand with his racket twice – destroying his equipment and damaging the chair.

That led to Ymer’s disqualification, making Fils the winner of the match.

After his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at Roland Garros, Ymer was asked whether he wanted to explain why he reacted the way he did in Lyon.

“With all due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from the video what caused it and why I reacted the way I reacted. Not justifying it at all, of course,” Ymer replied. “But for me to sit here and to explain? I think it’s pretty clear what led me to that place. I think that’s pretty clear in the video.”