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April 23, 2000: The day Cedric Pioline won his only ATP Masters 1000 title
Each day, Tennis Majors looks back at the biggest moments in tennis history. On April 23, 2000, Frenchman Cedric Pioline took out Dominik Hrbaty at the Monte-Carlo Masters to claim his only ATP Masters 1000 title
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, April 23, 2000, Cedric Pioline defeated Dominik Hrbaty in the final of the Monte-Carlo Open (6-4, 7-6, 7-6), claiming his first-ever ATP Masters 1000 title, and becoming the first Frenchman to win the tournament since Pierre Darmon in 1963. Pioline had lost two previous finals at Monte-Carlo, in 1993 and 1998, before breaking the spell and claiming the biggest title of his career.
The players: Cedric Pioline and Dominik Hrbaty
- Cedric Pioline, France’s hope
Cedric Pioline was born in 1969. He entered the top 100 in 1991, and obtained his first remarkable result the next year, reaching his first final on the tour in Lyon (lost to Pete Sampras, 6-4, 6-2). His breakthrough year was 1993, when he finished runner-up at the Monte-Carlo Open (defeated by Sergi Bruguera, 7-6, 6-0). Even better, Pioline made his way to the US Open final, where he was once again beaten by Sampras (6-4, 6-4, 6-3). A few months after this outstanding performance, the Frenchman obtained a career-high ranking of world No 9.
In the following years, Pioline did not manage to establish himself as a consistent top 10 player, but he was not to be counted out in big tournaments. Not only did he claim three ATP titles and reach numerous finals, but he also reached a second Grand Slam final, in 1997, at Wimbledon, where Sampras prevailed against him (6-4, 6-2, 6-4). In 1998, after a second final lost at Monte-Carlo (defeated by Carlos Moya, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5), the Frenchman reached the Roland-Garros semi-finals (defeated by Alex Corretja, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2). In 1999, he made his way into the Wimbledon quarter-finals (lost to Tim Henman, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3), and in the US Open quarter-finals, he beat world No 6 Gustavo Kuerten in a memorable night-session (4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6), but in the next round, he was swept off the court by Todd Martin (6-4, 6-1, 6-2). Pioline finished this great season with an even greater disappointment when he couldn’t prevent Mark Philippoussis from destroying the French team in the Davis Cup final. In April 2000, he was world No 12.
- “Dominator” Dominik Hrbaty
Dominik Hrbaty, from Slovakia, was born in 1978. Nicknamed “Dominator”, he turned pro in 1996 and was named “Newcomer of the Year”, after he jumped from world No 315 to No 78 in 12 months. He claimed his first title in 1998 in San Marino, defeating Mariano Puerta in the final (6-2, 7-5). In 1999, he obtained his best Grand Slam result at Roland-Garros, where he reached the semi-finals, defeated by Andre Agassi (6-4, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4). In April 2000, he was world No 24.
The place: Monte-Carlo Country Club
Located at the top of the Rocher de Monaco, with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Monte-Carlo Country Club has hosted one of the oldest international tennis tournaments since 1928. The event has historically marked the beginning of the clay-court season, and is a part of the prestigious ATP Masters 1000 category. Amongst its former champions, there was a long list of clay-court terrors, such as Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Sergi Bruguera, and Thomas Muster.
In April 2000, Cedric Pioline was 30 years old. Throughout his career, the Frenchman had often obtained great results in big tournaments – he had played two Grand Slam finals as well as two Masters 1000 finals – but he had never won one. His two Masters 1000 finals had taken place here, at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, and he had been defeated each time by the future Roland-Garros champion (Sergi Bruguera in 1993, Carlos Moya in 1998).
However, in 2000, something had changed about Pioline: at the end of 1999, he started working with a psychologist, to improve his communication with his long-term coach, Pierre Cherret, and to reduce stress. This work seemed effective and, in February, the Frenchman triumphed in Rotterdam, defeating Tim Henman in the final (6-7, 6-4, 7-6).
To set up a clash with Dominik Hrbaty, who had reached the semi-finals at Roland-Garros in 1999, the world No 12 had only faced lesser-ranked players. In the final, with his recent results and the level of tennis he had shown the entire week, he was the favourite. This time, in his third Monte-Carlo final, the Frenchman got off with a good start and secured the first set, 6-4. After he won the second-set tie-break, he was confident enough not to panic when he was broken in the early third set:
“I made two mistakes on easy shots and he took advantage of it. He broke me on those shots. I was not too worried. I was up two sets to love and I was playing well.”
The 1997 Wimbledon runner-up saved three break points at 5-5, in a 17-minute game, then pushed Hrbaty into another tiebreak, and he sealed his victory soon after – showing amazing defensive skills on his second match point.
At his third attempt, Pioline could finally lift the trophy at the end of a Monte-Carlo final. It was by far the most important title of his career.
“I’m very happy to have won here today, this is the most important tournament I’ve ever won,” Pioline said. “Dominik played unbelievable tennis, he was hitting very hard. My goal was to vary between rallies, to go to the net, to accelerate, and it worked. I wanted to go all the way and I tried to put pressure on him. It was my day and it’s a big win for me. I ran like I was 20 years old and I hope to continue for a few more years.”
What happened next
Unfortunately, Pioline would not continue running like a 20-year-old for many years. After his loss in the Roland-Garros fourth round to Marat Safin (6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 7-5), he would never play another ATP final, nor reach the second week of a Grand Slam tournament. He would retire in 2002.
Dominik Hrbaty would climb as high as world No 12, in 2004. In 2005, along with Karol Beck and Karol Kucera, he would lead the Slovakian team into the Davis Cup final, but, although Hrbaty won his two singles matches against Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic, the team would be defeated by Croatia, 3-2. In 2006, he reached the final of the Paris Masters 1000, which would remain his last remarkable result on the Tour. Having left the top 100 in 2007, he would retire in 2010.