Gamble wins Balleret a shot at jackpot game with Federer

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The Independent Online

There is usually only one way in which you can legally double your lifetime's earnings here in less than a week. As a local man, Benjamin Balleret must know plenty of stories about fortunes made in the Monte Carlo casino, but the 23-year-old has shown this week that blackjack and roulette are not the only games that can bring a smile to your bank manager's face.

In five years on the professional tennis circuit Balleret, the world No 351, had earned just $29,462 (about £16,500) before he attempted to qualify for the Masters tournament at the Monte Carlo Country Club, where he is a member.

Four matches later, after victories over Alberto Portas (world No 106), Jonas Bjorkman (71), Christophe Rochus (44) and Sébastien Grosjean (18), he has already doubled his career prize-money and today faces the ultimate test when he meets Roger Federer, whose earnings currently stand at $22,422,333 (about £12.5m).

If luck was on Balleret's side yesterday - Grosjean had a back injury and retired when trailing 4-6, 7-5, 3-2 - nobody would begrudge him his 15 minutes of fame. Before this week Balleret had never even won a Challenger match, which is the level beneath the main ATP circuit. He has spent his career playing in minor tournaments in countries like Iran, the Dominican Republic and Lebanon.

"I'll go back to playing on the satellite circuit from next Monday," Balleret said. "But with my new ranking I'll be able to enter qualifying for the Grand Slam tournaments, which is what my aim was. I might also be able to pay a coach to work with me part-time. When you're on your own it's hard to analyse your matches."

Balleret's next opponent crushed Alberto Martin, 6-0, 6-1 in just 46 minutes yesterday. It was an ominous statement of intent at such an early stage of a clay court season in which Federer is aiming to win the French Open, the only Grand Slam title that has eluded him, thereby becoming the first player since Rod Laver to hold all four majors at the same time. Federer, who said he was surprised to hit form so early, has watched Balleret's progress with interest.

"When I watched him play Grosjean on television that was the first time I've seen him in a match," he said. "It's a great thing for the tournament for him to have got so far." The tournament is building towards an impressive finale, with several top players running into form. Rafael Nadal dropped only five games to Jean-René Lisnard, Andy Murray's conqueror, Ivan Ljubicic beat Florent Serra and David Nalbandian beat Andreas Seppi 7-5, 7-5.

The recovery of the day was by Guillermo Coria, who beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 after trailing 5-1 in the second set.