CHENNAI: 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.
Points to note
Hit with Roger Federer during an off-season camp in Dubai in December.
Trained by Emmanuel Planque, coach who tutored Lucas Pouille.
Won his first Challenger as a 17-year-old when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas.