PARIS • Superheroes normally go to work in satin pants and a cape.
Marco Trungelliti chose a rented car, packed with tennis rackets and hopes, as well as his wife, brother, mother and 88-year-old grandmother for an 800km trip that ended on Monday afternoon in Paris with a heart-warming win against Bernard Tomic.
The Australian arrived later to Court No. 9 than his world No. 190 opponent, who had driven for 10 hours from his home in Barcelona hoping to win a cheque in the French Open first round as a lucky loser.
After nearly three hours on court, the 28-year-old Argentinian walked away with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory and €99,000 (S$154,000), nearly trebling his season's earnings.
In 11 years striving on the tramlines, in singles and doubles from Alicante to Almaty and back, Trungelliti has averaged about US$50,000 (S$67,000) a year, before travelling and living expenses, in front of minuscule crowds.
His pot here consists of half of the first-round money he had to split with Nick Kyrgios, as well as €79,000 for reaching the second round. He does not often earn that in one outing. It is a fairy tale that might even linger past the second round.
Trungelliti is good enough. Two years ago he put the world No. 10, Marin Cilic, out in the first round on a rare visit to the main draw. Today, he plays a kindred spirit in Marco Cecchinato, the world No. 72 from Palermo, who spent three hours and 41 minutes beating the Romanian Marius Copil.
8 Players who pulled out, allowing Marco Trungelliti to register for the Roland Garros main draw.
Wearing a smile, Trungelliti explained the details of his odyssey.
"We were at home with my family. My brother (Andre) and my grandma (Daphne) and my mamma (Susana) came from Argentina a week ago. They were going to come to Paris but I lost - so I (went home). Then they rent a car to take a look at Barcelona and some other cities in Spain. We were preparing to go to the beach," he said.
"My coach told me: 'Take a look at Mohamed Safwat (the Egyptian late replacement who lost to Grigor Dimitrov on Sunday). He's playing right now. Ask if you are going to get in.' So I ask and somebody told me that I was the first alternate (to replace Kyrgios against Tomic).
"Actually my grandma was in the shower and I told her: 'OK, we go to Paris.'"
The decision to drive paid off. Had Trungelliti relied on air travel, he probably would have been stranded by one of the three Barcelona-to-Paris flights that were cancelled on Sunday night. French trains were plagued by strikes.
Other lucky losers were left wishing they had made better choices after Kyrgios became the eighth player to pull out of the men's draw - with an elbow injury.
Any player who had lost in any of the three rounds of qualifying - and who had not entered the main draw of another tournament this week - would have been able to sign up and would immediately have been placed in the draw, securing at least an additional €20,000 in prize money.
There were 83 eligible players, but none had signed in at the referee's desk before the 10.30am deadline on Sunday. Most had left town but many others like Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis were nearby, and simply missed the opportunity.
"I messaged the tour manager yesterday saying, 'Would I have gotten in? And he said, 'Yes'," said Kokkinakis, who then replied with a swear word.
The open spot was then set to go to the highest-ranked player who lost in the final round of qualifying and signed in before the deadline.
Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked 183rd, should have been in pole position. But still four spots down in the order on Friday when qualifying ended, he decided he should enter a Challenger tournament in Italy. He lost in the first round in Vicenza on Monday, pocketing just €660.
His gamble left the ninth player in the order, Trungelliti, with a clear road to get back into the tournament.
Leaving Barcelona around 1pm, the family arrived in Paris close to midnight. After getting about five hours of sleep, Trungelliti came to the tournament, signed in well before the deadline, then toppled Tomic. If he beats Cecchinato today, the hero's journey will continue.
THE GUARDIAN, NYTIMES