French Wildcards Villard & Aubert Advance In Nantes
France's Benjamin Aubert and Enora Villard made the most of their wildcard spots in the inaugural Open de France - Nantes 2019 presented by Tailor Capital by advancing to the second round of the PSA World Tour Silver event at La Maison du Squash in Nantes.
World No.56 Enora Villard kicked the event off with a surprise victory over Belgium's world No.27 Tinne Gilis in straight games, in the best-of-three format being trialled in Nantes.
The Frenchwoman, ranked 29 places below her first round opponent, took an early lead in the first game, one that she would not relinquish.
She did the same in the second, moving out to a 6-2 lead. Although the seeded Gilis looked like fighting back at times, Villard battled through to take her place in the second round, repeating her shock win over the higher-ranked Belgian just five days earlier in the European Individual Championships in Bucharest.
"The physical side of things played an enormous role today. I was always a fighter, but I was lacking a bit on the speed and the explosivity sides of things. And although I would pick up a lot of shots, I would be a bit late on the ball and not be able to act on them," Villard said.
"But now, I managed to get early on the ball, and it gives me more choices, and the feeling that I can pick up much more. Those three months of preparation with my coaches, who invested a lot of time and effort in me, really paid off. I felt a bit more pressure today but Philippe (Signoret) reminded me that she is still the favourite, and that I shouldn't feel I had to win. That helped to keep me relaxed."
Meanwhile, world No.90 Benjamin Aubert produced the victory of the afternoon as he downed Germany's world No.27 Raphael Kandra in a mammoth three-game battle.
The pair battled it out for 59 minutes at La Maison du Squash, with all three games reaching a conclusion in tie-breaks, as the Frenchman came back from a game down to beat the newly-crowned European champion - Germany's first winner of the title.
Kandra took the first 12-10, but Aubert fought back, winning the second 13-11 to force a decider. Both men had match balls, but it was the Frenchman that came out on top.
"At the start I was just petrified with pressure. I couldn't see the ball leaving his racquet, and was finding it difficult to read his left-hander shots," Aubert admitted.
"But I managed to come back, and lost only a close game, that put me back in the game I have to say. The next two will be a bit lucky at times I feel, it was maybe down to the one that wanted it more.
"I was aware he was coming back from Bucharest and the individuals. And also, I was so honoured to have been awarded that wild card, I wanted to make them proud, and I hope I managed to do just that."
Mathieu Castagnet and Coline Aumard also made it through to the second round, with the pair both having to survive scares in their first round clashes.
Aumard faced off against compatriot Melissa Alves for a place in the last 16, and it was all going well after she won the first game. However, Alves came back into the match, reeling off a string of points to win the second.
The world No.33 went on to secure victory after battling back in the third game, booking her place in the second round, and setting up a clash with compatriot Camille Serme. In what will be the top seed's 400th match on the PSA World Tour.
Meanwhile, Mathieu Castagnet lost the first game of his clash against India's Ramit Tandon on a tie-break, only for the Frenchman to fight back, eventually taking the honours after 47 minutes. He goes on to face reigning champion Declan James on the all-glass court at the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne on Tuesday evening.
There was a shock win for unseeded Nathan Lake in his all-English encounter with Daryl Selby, the former British National champion ranked 19 in the world. It took just 22 minutes for Lake, ranked 41 places lower, to record his 11-2, 11-6 upset.
"Nathan played great today, knew I was short but didn't realise I was that short," Selby told his Twitter followers later. "Disappointing start to the season but 4 weeks training now in prep for US Open".
The win clearly inspired Lake's US girlfriend Haley Mendez who then posted a surprise 11-7, 5-11, 11-7 victory over seeded Egyptian Mayar Hany to set up a surprise second round meeting with compatriot Amanda Sobhy, the event's No.3 seed.