May 25, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Trungelliti’s magic ride continues with win over Tomic

PARIS –  Marco Trungelliti’s rags-to-(literal)-riches story will continue, for at least one more round.

The appealing Argentine’s 10-hour family road trip from Barcelona to Boulogne paid dividends Monday, as he defeated qualifier Bernard Tomic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

It took less than three hours – or nearly eight hours less than it took the 28-year-old to get to the court Sunday night.

It turns out, he’s quite a funny character. And his reaction to the entire situation was surprisingly matter-of-fact. Until you realize that, as a career Challenger player, long road trips and sudden twists of fate are probably nothing new for him.

Trungelliti

He relayed the details – in Spanish and very good English – before a full-to-bursting press conference room. If you walked in, not knowing who was up on the dais, you would have thought the crowd had gathered for Rafael Nadal after the semifinals.

“So actually, my grandma was in the shower,” he said, as the assembled laughed. “And I told her, ‘Okay, we go to Paris.’ “

Trungelliti lost in the final round of qualifying Thursday afternoon. After picking up his prize money and running other errands on Friday, he headed home. As it was, with a train strike going on in France, flights out are at a premium and often delayed, so he didn’t get home to Barcelona until after 2 a.m. (That becomes a key component of the rest of his story).

Unseeded, he was so far down the list of potential alternates there seemed little point in sticking around.

Trungelliti

Plus, his brother André, mother Susana and grandmother Dafne – he calls her “abuelita“, the Spanish term for “Granny” – had traveled from his native Argentina. And if they weren’t going to be able to see him play at Roland Garros, they were going to have some quality family time.

Saturday was barbecue day. “For Argentina is one of the main reasons to (be) alive, I guess,” Trungelliti said. “And then I was relaxed. Like a normal thing.”

Sunday was going to be a beach day.

And then … fate intervened

Trungelliti’s coach contacted him to tell him that, against all odds, Mohamed Safwat was going to be playing Grigor Dimitrov Monday. The Egyptian journeyman was the seventh lucky loser to make the main draw.

Trungelliti inquired, and found out he was next in. They didn’t know if he would actually get to play. But given the automatic extra 20,000 Euros that would go in his pocket – and the possibility of more – getting back to Paris for the 10:30 a.m. Monday sign-in deadline for alternates was a no-brainer.

The problem, of course, was how to get there.

It had been complicated enough to get home. The time frame was tight. And any delays would mean it would be a trip in vain.

“There are many flights canceled, so I didn’t trust too much. And then there is no train now in France so the best option was always, was just take the car,” Trungelliti said.

Santiago del Estero, where Trungelliti hails from, is a large-enough city with a population of about 400,000. But Trungelliti said that long road trips are no big deal. It’s about 5 1/2 hours from Cordóba, and nearly 12 hours from the country’s capital, Buenos Aires. 

Trungelliti

It was just fine with Grandma Dafne, who turns 89 next month.

“She always told us that with her husband, they organized a trip from one minute to the next. They were having a coffee and her husband would say (let’s hit the road),” he said. “Argentina, the cities are very distant one from the other, and they would decide to go to another city. And I told her while she was in the shower that we were going to drive to Paris. And she was really happy.”

The family had rented a car, planning to visit Barcelona and other cities in Spain during their visit. Trungelliti hadn’t even unpacked his bags from his week in the qualifying. Within a half-hour, brother, mother, abuelita and player were on the road.

It took about 10 hours. Trungelliti said his brother drove about six hours, and he did the rest. They stopped every couple of hours for coffee. They listed to Argentine folk music – or they rolled along in companiable silence.

And, compared to the two-lane roads in Argentina, the highway through Spain and France was a piece of cake.

“We didn’t really have to stop. And it was a motorway all the way through, which is something we’re not used to in Argentina,” Trungelliti said, referring to “La Ruta”, a treacherous bit of two-lane road he said you only hope you’ll come out of alive.

“Because in Argentina, you never know who you’re going to come across, whether the driver you have coming from the opposite side is on drugs or has been drinking,” he said. “We got to Paris and then we went to sleep.”

First up at 11 a.m.

It would have been kinder to re-schedule Trungelliti for a little later in the day on Monday. But that’s not how those things work. 

So after a few hours’ sleep, he arrived at Roland Garros about 7:30 a.m., with the early 9 a.m. practice-slot on the match court – Court 9. He needed it, because he hadn’t so much as picked up his tennis racket since he lost last Thursday afternoon.

Promptly at 11 a.m., he walked on to that court, earbuds in, hair in full shaggy mode, to a nice reception and more than a few television cameras.

But there was a problem: no Tomic.

Wouldn’t it have been the craziest twist to the story if Trungelliti had traveled all that way – and his opponent didn’t show up?

Given this was Tomic, that was certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Finally, five eternal minutes later, the Aussie ambled onto the court.

And three hours later, Trungelliti had beaten him.

Tomic, whose dismissive, single-digit-word answers in his small press conference later would give no indication as to whether the hip and leg issues he seemed to be having were anything serious, was beaten by a player who clearly had more hunger and desire to be there.

He also was beaten by a player far more comfortable on a clay court.

“Clearly my opponent was not a player on clay. He’s more used to a hard surface, because he’s a fast player. And although he’s a very talented player at a fairly high level, he wasn’t at his best. Obviously you can try and exploit the flaws when you see them,” Trungelliti said. “I don’t know whether he felt well, but I felt very well, and that was the most important. I was really relaxed, and that’s it.”

A most profitable road trip

After you deduct the cost of gas and road caffeine and a couple of extra hotel rooms, this would have been a profitable trip for Trungelliti even in defeat.

But now that he’s won, and has moved on to the second round, the possibilities are delicious.

He is guaranteed 79,000 Euros even if he loses in the second round. That’s about $91,600 US dollars – nearly three times his earnings for the entire season so far.

Trungelliti

Trungelliti will play Marco Cecchinato, a 25-year-old currently ranked No. 72 who has made a major breakthrough this sprin  Look at the notches he has on his clay-court belt: Fabio Fognini, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Andreas Seppi and Pablo Cuevas.

He went from the qualifying to the title in Budapest last month, to earn his first career ATP Tour title.

It took Cecchinato three hours and 41 minutes to get past Marius Copil of Romania in his first round Monday. And he had to come back from two sets to none down, and win it it overtime – 10-8 in the fifth set.

But Cecchinato (who until recently was a player like Trungelliti, traveling the world to find a clay court, mostly on the Challenger circuit) is not Nadal, or Djokovic, or Thiem. 

A great opportunity for Trungelliti

“I could very well have come and there had been no retirement and I wouldn’t have played. But these tournaments deserve for you to be ready. I know it’s a good opportunity to continue to move on. The last two times (at Roland Garros) I lost in the second round, so I really have to move on,” Trungelliti said. “I know that it’s an opportunity, and obviously the more tension you’re under, the more pressure you’re under, the less your chances. So now I’m going to have to start training again – and resting, of course.”

Meanwhile, Trungelliti’s abuelita might visit Paris again, a city she travelled to 20 years ago. Dafne got a lot of air time during her grandson’s match – looking as stressed as could be.

Abuelita Dafne, who turns 89 next month, is probably enjoying every second of her newfound notoriety.

 “She has no idea what tennis is, really. She has no idea how to (keep score). And actually, she told me that she didn’t know that it was the end of the match until everybody was clapping. And the nerves were due to the fact that she never goes to the matches, so she never sees our matches, he said, laughing. “She believes in God very strongly, so she always (lights) candles to all the saints, and it’s very rare that she would be on the court.

“I hope she’s okay. Well, I wouldn’t want her to die of stress,” he added.

If it helps at all, his abuelita can light a few candles before his match against Cecchinato.

Who knows? Doing it at the historic Notre Dame Cathedral might have even more impact.

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