There is no player on tour quite like Julien Benneteau.
I’ve been a fan of his for a few years, since some tennis friends turned me onto his antics. And like a guilty-pleasure TV show that you just can’t stop watching even though everything seems to always go wrong, I’ve been watching him ever since.
If you like your tennis with a side of Opera, then Julien Benneteau is your guy. His matches are as predictably unpredictable as they come, and you only sign up for them if you’re really in the mood to be taken on a ride.
In his first round match at this year’s French Open against Ricardas Berankis, he was up 7-6, 6-3, 5*-4, 40-0–that’s three match points–before things fell apart. Berankis won the next five points, and then took the third set 7-5. After the third set, Benneteau went off the court for a MTO due to an injured groin. Benneteau then went up 4-1 in the fourth set before being taken to a tiebreak. He finally won that set, and thus the match.
While everyone was gearing up for the de-facto match of the day, Ernests Gulbis vs. Gael Monfils, I was circling another match on the OOP–Julien Benneteau vs. Tobias Kamke.
Tobias Kamke has been a cult favorite of mine ever I saw him mime blowing his brains out during a first round match at Winston-Salem a couple of years ago. (Sorry if you’ve heard that story before, it’s a good one and I like repeating it.) I’m drawn to him because of his aggressive game, his serial killer eyes, and the fact that he looks like he was taken right out of another time, when tennis players were shorter, well-groomed, and had less muscles.
But really this wasn’t about Tobias at all. It was all about Benny.
Today’s match was even more Benny-like than his first round match. He was up two sets and 5-5 in the third before things began to unravel. And when I say unravel, I mean he lost the next 10 games.
Yes, you read that right, he lost 10 games in a row after being two games away from winning the match. He dropped the third set 5-7, and then was bageled in the fourth and then went down an early break in the fifth. All of this in front of his hometown crowd and against Tobias Kamke, who has only won two matches at the French Open in his career.
I loved every second of it.
You see, to really get the full experience of Benny matches, you have to commit. You have to get excited when he starts out playing well. You have to rant alongside him when he yells at a ballboy or argues with the umpire. You have to cheer at his good shots, groan with his bad shots, and grimace at his falls. (Yes, I meant that to be plural.)
And when it looks like he’s going to win a match in straight sets without any drama, you have to momentarily go with that too, because it’s part of it.
You know how in crime dramas there’s always a suspect in custody at about minute 15, and even though you know that there’s 30 more minutes of show left, you kind of believe that maybe this time that suspect is guilty and the cops will spend the next half hour just shooting the shit at the bar? That’s what it’s like when Julien Benneteau is one game away from winning a match in straight sets. You know deep down you have a roller-coaster in store, but each time you kind of believe that this time will be different.
It might sound masochistic, and I suppose it is, but it’s also totally worth it. Why? Because when he does win–and occasionally, like today, he does–it is glorious.
After pulling off the match against Kamke in front of a packed crowd in France, Benneteau dropped to his knees on the clay. He clenched his fists, lifted his hands in the air, and he sobbed.
— The Slice (@TheSliceTweets) May 29, 2013
Then Tobias Kamke met him on his side of the court–because Benny was taking a long time to get to the net–and they hugged.
— The Slice (@TheSliceTweets) May 29, 2013
Just like in crime dramas, the ending is not always a happy one, but when it is, it makes it all worth it. And that’s why you keep tuning in.
Benneteau plays Federer in the third round. He’s beaten Federer twice–including this year–and lost to him in spectacularly Benny fashion at Wimbledon last year. I have a feeling that their meeting on Friday will be more of the latter.
But no matter what, I’ll be watching.