Michael Llodra is a Parisian prankster, a wine connoisseur and a serve and volleyer. In other words, he is not your average tennis player, and Sam Querrey found the 32-year-old left hander — who is languishing at the ridiculously low ranking of 121 — too much to handle in Friday’s last match at the Bercy Omnipalais.
Winning 29 points at the net and coming in on just about everything, Llodra reached the semifinal of this ATP Masters1000 event for the second time in three years by beating the American 7-6 (6-4), 6-3.
“It wasn’t just that facing someone who serves and volley all the time is very unusual but the fact that he served so well all through,” Querrey said. “He got so much pace and slice that it was very difficult to return. And he was so sharp at the net, picking up some unbelievable volleys.”
Llodra’s reflexes certainly were sharp and he frequently brought roars of approval from his large hometown crowd as he lunged to meet some of Querrey’s well-struck passing shots with a deft turn of the wrist.
In fact, Querrey did quite well to reach break points five times on the Llodra serve because none of Llodra’s previous three opponents — including No. 7 seed Juan Martin del Potro in the previous round — managed to get that close to breaking the Frenchman’s serve.
“I have been audacious and it worked,” Llodra said. “I love this tournament and the crowd (is) always a big help.”
Llodra’s low ranking partially can be explained by the fact that he took most of the summer off after the Olympics to be with his family, especially as a third child arrived in July. As one of the most popular French players, Llodra received a wild card to get into the draw and has repaid tournament director Guy Forget by keeping the interest level high after the early losses of so many established stars.
Llodra has been coached for the past few months by Stephane Simian, an old friend and fellow left-hander who rose to No. 2 at the French Federation after his playing career finished and seemed poised to take over the running of Roland Garros. But politics and personality clashes got in the way, and Simian now has moved into the role of coach, bringing the wildly extroverted Llodra down to earth, at least as far as his tennis is concerned.
This was the man who hid naked in Ivan Lubicic’s locker and jumped out at the startled Croat in one of the more memorable locker room jokes of the past decade. Such hijinks are a thing of the past now that Llodra is a family man, but his tennis career clearly is not over.
It is now up to No. 4 seed David Ferrer to see if he can break the Llodra serve after the Spaniard ousted another French favorite, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 7-5 earlier in the day.
But the story of the week has, undoubtedly, been the emergence of the 6-foot-8 Polish qualifier Jerzy Janovicz, who beat his fourth consecutive top-20 player when Janko Tipsarevic retired at 4-1 down in the third set after complaining of dizziness.
Like those before him, including US Open Champion Andy Murray on Thursday, Tipsarevic was more than a little dazed by the power and variety of the 21-year-old Pole’s game. The serve from that height is obviously huge, but there also is delicacy when he conjures up his drop shots and power off the ground from a blazing forehand.
“First set was a little bit nervous from my side,” said Janowicz, who advanced to his first ATP Master1000 semifinal by winning 3-6, 6-1, 4-1 (retired). “I had like cold start a little bit. But after this first set, I just relax and I did something magical. I just played like I really can put every single ball in and I’m in semifinal. It’s really not easy for me to realize actually what is going on in my life right now.”
Janowicz, who has had difficulty finding sponsors in Poland, was so poor this time last year that he didn’t have enough money to travel to Melbourne to try and qualify for the Australian Open. With $152,220 already in his pocket from this week, you can be sure he will be heading down under in January.
Janowicz now will meet the 20th-ranked Gilles Simon, who played like a man with an eye on the ATP Finals in London next week in beating No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-4.