PARIS: Unlikely French hero Julien Benneteau delighted in his “most beautiful” victory after stunning world number five Marin Cilic 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 to reach the Paris Masters semi-finals on Friday.
The 35-year-old dropped out of the world’s top 500 two years ago after a string of injuries, but is now two wins away from the first ATP title of his 17-year career, having lost all 10 of his previous finals.
The world number 83 had not beaten a top-10 player since 2014 before this week, but he has now seen off two in as many days after knocking out 10th-ranked David Goffin in the last 16.
“I believe that win ranks quite high in everything I achieved in my career. When it’s over, we’ll see what will be the final ranking,” he said.
“But, of course, individually, I believe it’s my most beautiful feeling ever.”
Benneteau, who was given a wildcard into only his second Masters event of the season, had not won a match at this level in over a year before arriving at Bercy.
But an incredible run has taken him past Canadian rising star Denis Shapovalov, French number one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seventh seed Goffin and 2014 US Open champion Cilic.
His win on Friday was played out in front of a partisan crowd at a packed Bercy Arena.
“Well, I wanted to enjoy it and take advantage of it. It’s a crazy stadium,” Benneteau added.
“There’s a lot of noise and we feel the crowd is very close.
“It’s one of the most beautiful stadiums in France or in Europe, and having the opportunity to play in a tournament like this is magic.”
Benneteau is the first home player to reach the last four in five years, achieving what far more-fancied French favourites have failed to manage.
He is set to retire at the end of next season, and with a return to the world’s top 50 coming next week, Benneteau could find himself playing his final year in the biggest tournaments.
“I didn’t see the rankings. I don’t know exactly what my new ranking will be, but I believe I will have an incredible luxury, which means I can choose when I want to stop, because I will be in the final draw,” he said.
“So, (I’ll be) playing until Wimbledon, playing the French Open for the last time, hoping I will not get injured... At 36 years old, I couldn’t dream anything better.”
The 2014 French Open doubles champion’s performance at Bercy has also sent out a message to France Davis Cup captain Yannick Noah ahead of their final against Belgium in Lille later this month.
Benneteau has played only one doubles rubber in the tournament so far this year. --AFP