PARIS (AFP) – The Paris Masters got underway at a near-empty Bercy Arena on Monday (Nov 2) amid France’s second coronavirus lockdown, with former champion Karen Khachanov being knocked out in the first round.
Russian Khachanov was beaten 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 by Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Tournament organisers had expected to welcome 1,000 fans a day to the event but instead, they had to refund the tickets when French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France would re-enter lockdown last week.
The prize money on offer has been cut by more than €2 million (S$3.18 million) from last year, when Novak Djokovic won the title.
In front of 15,000 vacant seats, the hum of the air-conditioning was often the loudest noise on the main court, with even the players allowed to have only two members of their usually large entourage in attendance.
Khachanov, the only former winner in the draw with Djokovic absent, bowed out tamely to bring a disappointing season to a close, with his match moved to a smaller court to avoid play slipping into the early hours of Tuesday.
Croatian Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, claimed an impressive win over Canadian youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime, edging through to the second round 6-0, 3-6, 6-3.
“I was not finding my best form in this season, last season, as well, comparing to (the) last few years before that,” said Cilic, who has dropped to 43rd in the world rankings.
“I would say this level of tennis is definitely good for my confidence. I felt that the match has been (a) really high level.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez set up a second-round clash with top seed Rafael Nadal – back in Paris just weeks after lifting a record-extending 13th French Open title – by beating Serbian Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (13-11), 6-1.
The 39-year-old said players need to accept that the tour may not return to normal for months yet, with the second virus wave sweeping across Europe.
“We have to be aware of the situation that the world is living and how everyone is facing these challenging times around the world,” Lopez said. “For now I don’t see any hope on prize money. I think it will stay the same for a while.”
Pablo Carreno Busta was another Spaniard to progress, seeing off home wildcard Hugo Gaston 6-3, 6-2.
Carreno Busta is bidding to finish an excellent season personally on a high, having also reached the US Open semi-finals and Roland Garros last eight.
But he said it had been a tough year in general, after the Tour shut down for five months between March and August due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Probably, it’s the most difficult season in my career,” said the world No. 15. “I know that we are lucky that we can continue playing, but also it’s not easy to be 100 per cent every week in this situation.”
Frenchman Ugo Humbert beat in-form Norwegian Casper Ruud in three sets and will face second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Tuesday, while there were also wins for US Open quarter-finalist Alex de Minaur and Croatian 15th seed Borna Coric.