Good memories of SA Open to spur Chardy

2010-01-21 00:00

JEREMY Chardy, last year’s finalist in the SA Tennis Open at Montecasino, says his first-round match in Johannesburg in the first week of February will be key.

Chardy has lost the opener in each of his three tournaments this year in an early annus horribilis that does no justice to his current world ranking of 34 or a fabulous 2009, in which he rose from 78th to a career best of 32nd.

“I need to work very hard to change things, get my confidence, but I like the altitude in Johannesburg and I have good memories,” he said from the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday.

The R3,75 million flagship SA tennis event takes place from February 1 to 7.

This will be Chardy’s third SA Open — he was a semi-finalist in 2008 before last year’s defeat by world No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Montecasino title match.

He clinched his first ATP World Tour title at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart last July, where the spoils included a new car courtesy of the sponsors.

The 22-year-old will arrive in Johannesburg next Friday accompanied by his coach, one of three physiotherapists who alternate duties during the year — and another very important person. “My girlfriend keeps me focused,” he says, a feat many partners of 22-year-old men would envy.

Flashing good looks will do Frenchman Chardy no harm in his quest to be an actor after his tennis career, but he readily concedes that one of his chief rivals at Montecasino, flamboyant countryman Gael Monfils, plays the lead role on court “and outside the court too”, he quips.

He says world No. 18 David Ferrer of Spain, who is likely to be seeded second for the SA Open, “is someone I know I can beat”. His assertion is not surprising considering last year’s memorable semifinal upset victory.

However, Chardy says it’s not quite up there with 2008’s shock French Open win over then world No. six, Argentina’s David Nalbandian, after trailing by two sets and more. “I was 180 in the world; to win was like a dream, a miracle,” says Chardy.

But he is more cautious about likely SA Open top seed Monfils, whom he has yet to better.

“Gael can play defensive, go to the net. It’s difficult to beat him. He can be a top player in the world,” Chardy says of a man who has defeated him twice on the tour.

Chardy, who also played very good soccer as a boy, admits “it was a tough decision” to choose which way to go. At the age of 14, he decided tennis was the better career path.

“I think it was a good choice, no?” the Paris Saint-Germain fan says, with a chuckle. That’s a no-brainer, really, considering the probable third seed at Montecasino has already earned $1,15 million in prize money alone in his short career as a top professional tennis player.

And what better way to celebrate his 23rd birthday on February 12 than with another hefty sum of prize money in Egoli on the Sunday before?

Tickets are available at Computicket.

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