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Tsonga, Monfils, Calleri and Gicquel Make Strong Starts

Casablanca, Morocco

Agustin Calleri © Getty ImagesAgustin Calleri in Casablanca

Top seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his debut match at the Grand Prix Hassan II on Monday, defeating Spaniard Albert Montanes 6-4, 7-6(10). The Frenchman converted one of three break points and was dominant on serve winning 76% of points.

The 22-year-old Tsonga began the year in fine form, making the semifinals in Adelaide (l. to Nieminen) before going on to reach his first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open (l. to Djokovic). However, he stands at just 2-2 on clay for the season. World No. 56 Montanes, who reached his first ATP Masters Series quarterfinal in Hamburg last week, now slips to 10-12 for the season.

Second seed Gael Monfils joined Tsonga in the second round, firing eight aces in battling past Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-7(8), 7-5, 6-0 in 2hr., 3min. The 21-year-old, who is making his debut in Casablanca, is playing in his first ATP event since falling first round to Igor Andreev in Munich last month, although last week he won a Challenger title in Marrakech.

Argentine Agustin Calleri (pictured) made a strong start on his debut. The third seed hit 12 aces to overcome unseeded Frenchman Thierry Ascione 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in two hours for a place in the second round.

Calleri improved to 14-12 on the season, having reached the quarterfinals at five events. He reached the last eight on clay in Buenos Aires, Acapulco and Houston. The 27-year-old Ascione, who advanced to the 2004 quarterfinals on debut (l. to Benneteau) drops to 1-4 this year.

Fourth-seeded Frenchman Marc Gicquel converted five of six break points as he advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Spaniard Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo. Playing in Casablanca for the fourth time, the 31-year-old Gicquel was a semifinalist last year (l. to Mathieu).

It is World No. 59 Gicquel’s first ATP victory since he reached the quarterfinals in Estoril (l. Davydenko) last month. He improves to 6-9 for the season and next will face 2004 Roland Garros finalist Guillermo Coria, who defeated qualifier Peter Polansky 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on his debut in Casablanca.

Fifth seed Julian Benneteau, one of nine Frenchmen in the main draw, progressed to the second round after defeating German Florian Mayer 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 1hr., 46min. The World No. 65, who was a semifinalist in Auckland (l. to Ferrero) earlier this season, is playing in Casablanca for the third time, his best result the semifinals in 2004 (l. to Hrbaty). He next will face Pablo Cuevas, who defeated Woong-Sun Jun 6-4, 6-1.

German Rainer Schuettler scored his first victory in four appearances at Casablanca, after defeating No. 6 seed Chris Guccione of Australia, who hit 14 aces, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-2 in a shade over two hours. Schuettler converted five of 14 break point opportunities for only his third ATP win of the year. He was on a seven-tournament losing streak, with his last win coming at the Australian Open in January (d. Clement, l. to Simon).

Qualifier Gilles Simon, currently No. 36 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, beat French compatriot and World No. 90 Florent Serra 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 in two hours and 23 minutes. It was the pair’s third career meeting and first since Adelaide in January 2007. Simon hit six aces and won 60 of 107 service points against the No. 7 seed.

Former champion Younes El Aynaoui upset eighth-seeded Romanian Victor Hanescu 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3 to book his spot in the second round. The Moroccan fired 12 aces and converted four of eight break points to secure the victory in 2hr., 9min.

The 35-year-old wild card is making his 13th appearance at the event, having lifted the trophy in 2002 (d. Canas), while also finishing runner-up in 1995 and 2003. Currently No. 189 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings (former No. 14 – Nov. 2003), El Aynaoui is contesting just his second ATP event of the season after reaching the semifinals in Munich (l. to Gonzalez). World No. 76 Hanescu has now lost first round on all three of his visits to Casablanca.

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