By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) – Roland Garros’s iconic “Bullring” court will be reduced to rubble after this year’s championships are over but French wildcard Antoine Hoang can at least look back one day and say he helped write the final chapter on its red dust.
The 23-year-old soaked up the 4,500-seater court’s atmosphere on Thursday as his dream Grand Slam debut continued with a superb victory over experienced Spanish 23rd seed Fernando Verdasco.
Ranked 146th, Hoang usually plays on the second-tier Challenger circuit but has more than justified his wildcard with wins against Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, ranked 52, and now Verdasco.
There was not an empty seat to be seen as fans roared Hoang home — leaving 35-year-old Verdasco ranting and raving at himself, his coaching team and the fans.
Mexican waves broke out before Hoang served for the match and he responded in style, finishing it off with an ace to huge roars that reverberated around the rest of the complex.
Hoang was still beaming when he arrived for his press conference later — saying he was happy to have etched his name in the court’s folklore before it is turned into a sedate lawn as part of the revamping of Roland Garros.
“For me it was the first time for me to play in front of so many people. Such a great atmosphere like that,” he said. “I think from the first point to the last point, there is so much noise between every point.
“I think it helped a lot for me. I tried my best. It’s such a pleasure, and it helps me a lot to enjoy every moment.”
“I’m a little sad about it (being demolished), but at least I could enjoy the moment,” added Hoang, who will face Gael Monfils next, and who knows, might get on an even bigger stage.
Hoang was followed on to Court One, the official name of the arena built in 1980, by swaggering Italian ninth seed Fabio Fognini who also clearly revelled in the football-like atmosphere whipped up by the fans as he moved into the third round past Argentine Federico Delbonis.
Fognini won 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-3 and will face Spain’s Robert Bautista Agut next.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)