MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Some players methodically prepare before their first match of a Grand Slam tournament, spending hours scouting their opponents, practicing and stretching, pumping themselves up.
Not Stephane Robert. He had all of 10 minutes to get ready to play Aljaz Bedene in the first round of the Australian Open this week.
The 33-year-old journeyman lost in the last round of the qualifying tournament, so his only hope of reaching the main draw was as a “lucky loser” - a replacement for another player who drops out at the last minute.
Robert got his ticket in when No. 21-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew due to injury on Tuesday - and he’s had what is probably the luckiest week of his life.
Not only did the Frenchman manage to beat Bedene, he made it all the way to the fourth round on Saturday with a 6-0, 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over fellow lucky loser Martin Klizan of Slovakia - the first time a lucky loser has advanced this far at the tournament.
“I was in a bit of trouble before the (first) match because I didn’t know that I was supposed to play,” Robert said.
“(The referee) told me, ‘OK, you’re ready to play? Court 7. Go.’ I see my opponent, I say, ‘OK, see you on court.’ And we went and played,” he said to laughter in his first appearance in the main interview room at Melbourne Park.
The No. 119-ranked Robert has won only 16 ATP Tour-level matches, spending much of his career toiling on the lower-tier Challenger and Futures circuits.
Still, he just barely missed the rankings cut-off for the Australian Open main draw, so he figured he might have a chance of sneaking in as a lucky loser. He was the second-highest ranked player to lose in qualifying, after Klizan.
“I was not in the locker room to check, ‘Hey guys, how do you feel?’” he joked. “I didn’t know that Philipp was in trouble with his thigh, so it was a good surprise.”
Now Robert is guaranteed to receive the largest paycheck of his career. A loser in the last round of qualifying receives $14,400 Australian dollars ($12,845), but a loss in the fourth round of the Open would net him $135,000 Australian dollars ($120,422).
He could go even further, although his next opponent has a tad better pedigree: three-time finalist Andy Murray.
The fourth-seeded Murray is impressed by Robert’s achievement.
“He’s obviously 33 years old. Could be easy to stop playing, if you’re not in the top hundred or necessarily making a great living,” he said. “But it does show if you stick at it, you’re professional, when your chance comes, you take it, you can do great things.”
However Robert fares in the next round, he knows he wouldn’t have gone this far were it not for Kohlschreiber’s injury.
“I don’t know him personally,” Robert said. “So maybe next tournament when I see him, I’m going to tell him thank you.”
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