Few ATP tournaments have a setting as idyllic as the Open de Nice Côte d’Azur.
The Mediterranean coastal city welcomes fans and players every May, a week before the French Open. The event has become popular with those hoping to gain final match practice before the second Grand Slam of the year.
The Nice Lawn Tennis Club, one of the oldest in France, was established in 1890. Situated at the heart of the city, but with a stunning view of the Côte d’Azur, it became one of the most sought-after playing spots for amateurs acquainting themselves with the relatively novel sport of tennis.
Over the decades, new owners and managers of the club oversaw a series of renovations. Today, the venue boasts a club house, 18 clay courts and an impressive centre court stadium.
The first Nice International Championships were held in the city in 1971, and many different companies sponsored the event over the next twenty-five years. The tournament was discontinued in 1995, but made a return to the calendar in 2010 as part of the ATP’s 250 series.
Many tennis greats have triumphed in Nice, and several went on to win at Roland Garros. Romanian legend Ilie Nastase won the first two editions of the event, defeating Jan Kodes in both finals. Bjorn Borg was also a double champion on the Côte d’Azur; he beat two clay court legends - Guillermo Vilas and Manuel Orantes - to win in 1977 and 1980.
French showman Henri Leconte thrilled the home fans with victories in 1985 and 1988, emulating compatriot and former French Open champion Yannick Noah, who won in Nice in 1981. Other famous names who competed in Nice without ever winning the title include Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier.
Since the event’s return to the ATP Tour, Nicolas Almagro has had the most success. He lifted the trophy in 2011 and defended his title the following year.
Gasquet def. Verdasco, 2010 final:
The first Nice tournament in 15 years culminated in a memorable final that had the French fans on the edge of their seats throughout. Richard Gasquet was unseeded at the 2010 event, but made it to the showpiece match after a series of increasingly impressive performances. There, he faced second seed and heavy favourite Fernando Verdasco.
To the delight of the home crowd, Gasquet tore through the opening set, his beautiful backhand on song during some lengthy and entertaining rallies. He held onto a break of the Verdasco serve to take it 6-3.
The second was more evenly contested, but once again Gasquet found a way to wear down his opponent from the baseline. He served for the championship at 5-4, only to succumb to an attack of nerves. Verdasco, an experienced clay courter, won six games in a row to open up a 3-0 lead in the decider, and it seemed that French hopes had been dashed just when victory was in sight.
Yet Gasquet, often criticised in the past for mental frailty, showed astonishing resolve to claw back. As the tension mounted, Verdasco grew increasingly impatient with the partisan crowd, and was broken when serving for the match at 5-3.
Both players scrambled for every ball in the final set tie-break, which featured some stunning exchanges. On the verge of exhaustion, Gasquet made a couple of brave net approaches to set up match point, and he secured victory when Verdasco sent a final forehand wide.
The riveting two hour, 37 minute battle was the perfect way to welcome the tournament’s return to the calendar, and signalled a return to form for one of France’s most talented players.
Video: Gasquet v Verdasco, 2010
- The 1997 Fed Cup semi-finals between France and Belgium were held at the Nice Lawn Tennis Club.
- Until 1981, the final was played as the best of five sets.
- In 2012, American Brian Baker made a stunning run to the final after being sidelined from the game for six years. He came through qualifying and beat Gael Monfils and Nikolay Davydenko before falling to Nicolas Almagro in the title match.