Moutet cred­its FedEx hand post Chen­nai ti­tle

The New Indian Express - - SPORT - SWAROOP SWAMI­NATHAN

WHEN Roger Fed­erer in­vited Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas for an off-sea­son hit in Dubai last De­cem­ber, it cre­ated head­lines around the ten­nis world. Ad­di­tional eyes were on the Greek, who fin­ished last year as No 15. Even though he had al­ready been to the win­ner’s cir­cle on the Tour be­fore, an in­vi­ta­tion by the Swiss was fur­ther val­i­da­tion of his talents. Un­known to many at that time was an­other man who had been given an in­vi­ta­tion to spar with the 20-time Slam cham­pion. It was French­man Corentin Moutet. Hav­ing watched the 19-year-old strut his stuff around the hard courts of Chen­nai over the last week, it’s not a sur­prise to see why he was in­vited. Apart from a weak­ish serve, the teenager al­ready has the game to cause some se­ri­ous dam­age. What re­ally caught the eye was his de­fen­sive skills from be­yond the base­line, the abil­ity to con­jure fore­hand win­ners at will and the way he tired op­po­nents (three of his five matches went the dis­tance) in test­ing con­di­tions. He didn’t need to dip into his re­serve on Sun­day but he still had am­ple time to show­case his de­fen­sive prow­ess as he beat Aus­tralia’s An­drew Har­ris 6-3, 6-3 in the fi­nal of the Chen­nai Open Chal­lenger that lasted 75 min­utes. In fact, the way he went about his busi­ness was rem­i­nis­cent of a young Rafael Nadal. Ev­ery­thing from the way the south­paw re­turned — he was stand­ing within hand­shak­ing dis­tance of the ball boys when re­ceiv­ing ser­vice — to chas­ing down lost causes to make the op­po­nent play that ex­tra ball. It was also no­ticed by Tamil Nadu Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion (TNTA) pres­i­dent Vi­jay Am­ri­traj. “He (Moutet) re­minded me a lot of Nadal,” the 65-year-old said af­ter the match. Moutet un­der­stand­ably did not want to get lost in tall com­par­isons. “I need to up my game,” he said. “I have to im­prove in all de­part­ments. I just have to keep do­ing my best ev­ery day. Work­ing hard is the only way to im­prove your­self.” Need­less to say, he was quick to credit Fed­erer for an ‘in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence’. “It (the train­ing stint) helped a lot. He is an in­cred­i­ble player... he is still play­ing but he has had an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer. I was just very lucky to have had the chance to work (with him). It’s al­ways nice to have a chance to play with great play­ers.” The World No 131, who hasn’t set any ob­vi­ous rank­ing tar­get in 2019 be­cause “it is some­thing he can­not con­trol”, only needs to look at a fa­mil­iar face to plot his own growth curve. Tsit­si­pas, Fed­erer’s other hit­ting part­ner two months ago. Even if it’s a tough ask, it is an at­tain­able tar­get. In 2017, Moutet beat Tsit­si­pas to claim his first Chal­lenger ti­tle.

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