- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

Gilles Muller is gradually becoming a more recognizable name in tennis, even if he doesn’t receive much attention for his accomplishments in his own country.

The left-hander upended ninth-seeded Nicolas Massu 7-6 (2), 6-4 yesterday to advance to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic’s round of 16 at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. Muller’s second victory in as many days followed a run to the final of last week’s tournament in Los Angeles.

However, the native of Luxembourg, a small Western European nation, said athletics aren’t a priority back home. His matchups against high-profile opponents such as Andre Agassi create some buzz in the nation’s media, but otherwise his exploits mostly receive token mentions.

“It’s kind of sad actually,” Muller said. “I think to play sports in Luxembourg, you have to leave the country. Not everyone is prepared to do this, because it’s kind of tough on you. You have to leave your friends and you have to leave your family.

“You’re leaving school, which isn’t always the best thing to do in Luxembourg, because everybody expects you to finish your school and then work in a bank afterward, which is what most people do in Luxembourg. I’m very happy my parents let me do this because I know some players my age that wanted to do the same, but their parents said, ‘No, no, you have to finish school.’ ”

The decision is paying dividends for the 22-year-old, who has risen to a career-best 59th in the rankings. He also seems ready to author another deep run in Rock Creek Park, where he upset Agassi a year ago en route to his first ATP Tour final. In a tournament already decimated by upsets and withdrawals, Muller might be one of the more familiar names remaining.

“Last year when I came here nobody knew me, so I kind of surprised everybody,” Muller said. “This year maybe people expect me to do something good, so maybe there’s more pressure on me. I feel like I now have to prove something to people here.”

Muller, who didn’t face a break point against Massu, displayed a well-placed serve from the start. He earned four break points in the first set — including two for the set — but eventually dominated the tiebreaker to gain the lead.

Muller took an aggressive approach against Massu, and he made sure he got to nearly everything against the hard-serving Chilean even if it put him out of position for the next shot. He finally broke Massu at 4-4 in the second set, belting a forehand down the side.

Not that his countrymen are paying much attention to a victory over the double gold medalist in the Athens Games

“Not that he’s not a great player, because I think he’s a great player, but in Luxembourg he’s not so famous,” Muller said. “He won the gold medal last year, but in Luxembourg probably 30 percent know who that is.”

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