The Career Journeyman: Julien Benneteau

One of the lasting images for me of the 2011 tennis season was watching the Final between John Isner and Julien Benneteau at the Winston-Salem Open. Benneteau, a Frenchman, had fought through the draw to reach the final, and his prize was the Ace Machine, John Isner. To anyone who didn't know of Benneteau, it seemed like a routine loss in the final to a far superior foe. But to those who knew Benneteau, it was much different.

ulien Benneteau of France sits after losing to John Isner in the final of the Winston-Salem Open

The tears shed after the loss would make a casual fan wonder why someone cared so much for a mere 250 event. Benneteau, 29-years-old at the time, had never won an ATP event.

He had come close before, having been a finalist four times previously, but this one seemed to mean more. He was in the match, he won the first set 6-4, and was taking it to the American. But, as most champions do, Isner didn't crack and wound up winning the match 4-6 6-3 6-4. Benneteau was left in defeat again. He was visibly shaken, as his diaphragm went up and down as tears undoubtedly wet the towel he had in his face. It just wasn't meant to be for Benneteau, just like it hadn't been for the 11 years he'd spent on tour.

Fast forward to 2012, he had a renewed sense of belief, he rose from the sub-100's to the mid 40's in the rankings, a true feat for someone of his age. He reached another final, his sixth, at Sydney before the Australian Open, but again, it was not to be as he lost 6-2 7-5 to fellow 30-year-old Jarrko Neiminen, who ended his six year title drought.

He had been playing his best tennis in a long time, and at Wimbledon, put a scare into

Roger Federer and all of his faithful fans. Benneteau went up two sets to love on the mighty Fed, but as Federer does, he came back to win in five. It was a great match, but it sure left Benneteau hurting.

This brings us to this past week. The 30-year-old Benneteau had fought off some great competition, and knocked out #1 seeded David Ferrer. It sure seemed like it was time for Benneteau to relish in the spoils of victory. Not so fast. Like the previous six times, Benneteau failed to win a final. In a tightly contested match, Benneteau lost to another resurgent player, Juan Monaco. The scoreline showed a 7-5 4-6 6-3 victory for Monaco, but the scoreline didn't show the heartbreak Benneteau continued to endure.

It's hard not to feel bad for Benneteau, who for 12 years has gone from tournament to tournament, hoping to enjoy the success once, that Roger Federer has 76 times, or Novak Djokovic has 31 times.

Players like Julien Benneteau keep this game alive. Sure, it's great to watch guys like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray go out and win a bunch of tournaments, but we seldom hear about the guys who don't win anything. These are the guys who truly love tennis. The ones that, while they don't win a lot, or ever, still have a joy for the game they grew up loving.

I can only hope that Julien Benneteau finds a way to win a tournament before he retires, because honestly, he really deserves it.

Here's to you Julien, keep on keepin' on.

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