French Open 2014: Axel Michon is everything you would expect a wild card to be
It is Day 5 here at the French Open and the headlines talk about the passage of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic into the round of 32 and the shocking exits of Stanislas Wawrinka and Serena Williams. Of course there is plenty of space devoted to Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer, who are scheduled to be on court later today. But we are here to discuss obscurity and a certain Axel Michon, who is playing the tournament because of the generosity of Fédération Française de Tennis.
Michon is a typical wild card – so obscure that neither the ITF nor the ATP World Tour has a picture on his profile page. He was unheard of even in France, before his hard fought victory in the first round earlier this week.
Axel will play the giant South African Kevin Anderson on Court 7 in the first match of the day. The Frenchman created a flutter by defeating Bradley Klahn 6-1, 6-7(4), 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the first round to earn his first ever tour level victory.
Of course, there are plenty of firsts this week for Michon. The 23-year-old has been battling for quite some time now to gain access to the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament. In fact, he has tried as many as seven times to make it through, including four times at the French Open (2009, 2011, 2012 & 2013), with no luck.
In his debut on the big stage, Michon fed off the support from the partisan crowd to topple the world No. 71 over five set of tennis. There was some raucous chanting and screaming by the wild local fans on court No. 17 which no doubt helped Michon over the line.
The Frenchman is typically seen around the Challenger circuit and he made news last year when he ousted world No. 63 Gilles Muller from the Cherbourg Challenger to record his first success over a player ranked inside the top 100. He has won 13 Futures events since his first title at the Estonia F2 event in 2009.
Michon has enjoyed a reasonable season this year, but he is yet to win a title – he reached a couple of semis, and the quarters at the Itajai Challenger in Brasil. Rewarded with a wild card this year, he has grabbed the gift from his federation as if he were clutching at his very life.
He won the first set against Klahn, but appeared ready for an exit when he failed to rein him in the second and third sets. But spurred on by a packed crowd, he regained life to take the final two sets and gain entry to the second round.
The Frenchman has been feted with a lot of support and admiration this week, along with the Corsican Laurent Lokoli, who lost a heart-breaking five setter after having Steve Johnson on the mat in the third set.
‘Le Parisien’, a prominent daily here, dedicated a page to him, even going as far as labelling him ‘la sensation Axel Michon’. But the 206th-ranked player has his task cut out against Anderson. The South African reached the fourth round of the French Open last year – his best Grand Slam result alongside appearances in the same round at the Australian Open (2013) and a repeat earlier this year.
Interestingly though, Anderson has lost his last two matches against wild card players – Roberto Bautista-Agut beat him at Valencia 2013 and a little less surprisingly, he lost to Juan Martin del Potro at Washington last year. We can expect the crowds around Court 7 to go ballistic if Michon even scents victory in the second round match.
The French are eager to embrace their heroes and while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils are doing well thus far, their quest for outsiders ends with Michon. Especially so after the painful defeat of Lokoli.