CHENNAI: IN an increasingly homogenous world, Lucas Catarina stands out for various reasons. Sample this: he is one of the few sportspersons with a (MON) next to his name. A citizen of Monaco — a Monegasque. Or this. There may be 7.6 billion people in the world but Catarina, who plays Pedro Martinez in the second round of the Chennai Open Challenger on Wednesday, is one of only 7000 to have a Monaco passport. One of the most exclusive of passport clubs anywhere on Earth.
How does the 21-year-old, who picked up his first-ever main draw victory at this level on Monday (he beat Nitin Kumar Sinha in the opening round), feel about it? “I’m a proud Monegasque,” he says. “I’m proud to represent Monaco. We are a very small country, about 7000 Monegasque... we are not India (smiles). A lot of people ask me this because there are not a lot of us (laughs).”
The Principality is one of those places which has a good sporting culture — the Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo Masters and AS Monaco FC. Heck, their Prince, Albert II, has represented the country in Bobsleigh at the Winter Games.
However, in a strange quirk, that culture has not yielded any world-class athletes. In fact, Monaco is yet to break their duck at the Summer and the Winter Games. Catarina, whose father played a handful of games for AS Monaco, goes back to the population of the city-State to explain the conundrum.
“It’s very difficult to produce world-class athletes when you are just 7000. Right now there are a few. We have a bobsled team at the Winter Games but to have one of the best teams in the world is a bit complicated.”
One thing that Monaco is rather good at is selling the dream of coming and living there (not to be confused with citizens). While it’s a lazy stereotype to pigeonhole Monaco as that, the World No 360 (only player from the Principality in the top-1300) readily agrees. “I cannot say anything else. It’s true that a lot of rich people stay here.”
Catarina, who hopes to make the jump from Futures to Challengers this year, has lucked out thanks to that very trait. Novak Djokovic, one of Monaco’s more famous inhabitants, calls him to have a hit during the off-season. “It’s always nice to play the likes of Djokovic,” he said. ‘I know him. I have seen him a lot of times. You don’t tend to copy things from players like him... but you get to learn a lot from a mental perspective (how he prepares and the way he goes and how he handles himself during practice sessions).”
The challenge for Catarina, who recently won a Futures event in Mexico, is simple. Use the lessons passed on by Djokovic.
In a continuing theme, more Indian players exited in the first round. In an upset, the unseeded Spaniard Pedro Martinez, who was seen vomiting after the match, beat eighth seed Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-1, 6-4. Manish Sureshkumar also lost out, Serbia’s Danilo Petrovic beating him 6-4, 6-2. Local lad Abhinav Shanmugham bucked the trend after opponent Ivan Nedelko retired thanks to a stomach bug.
Select results on Tuesday (all Rd 1) Jordan Thompson bt K Maamoun (Egy) 6-4, 6-2, Yuki Bhambri bt B Zapata Miralles (Esp) 6-1, 7-6 (3).
Select matches on Wednesday (all Rd 2): Sidharth Rawat vs Yuki Bhambri, Jordan Thompson (AUS x1) vs W Trongcharoenchaikul (THA), Abhinav Shanmugam vs Duckhee Lee (KOR x3).