All aboard the Escude Express

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Don't look now, but lanky Frenchman Nicolas Escude is establishing himself as one of the players to beat on the ATP.

The red-hot native of Chartres has rolled out to a brilliant 16-3 start this season, including a championship run last week in Rotterdam. He's a gaudy 22-3 if you include his flawless 6-0 doubles activity this year.

The 2001 Davis Cup hero beat a who's who of stalwarts en route to his title at the World Tennis Tournament in the Netherlands, including a semifinal victory over fellow Frenchman and current top-10 performer Sebastien Grosjean.

Escude (ess-koo-DAY) overcame Englishman Tim Henman in three sets in the Rotterdam final to secure his first title of the year and the third of his career. It was a repeat performance in Rotterdam, where the Frenchman defeated Swiss stud Roger Federer in the 2001 final.

Nicolas Escude
Nicolas Escude has rolled out to a brilliant 16-3 start this season, including a championship run last week in Rotterdam.
Escude officially put himself on the tennis map towards the end of last year when he led France to an unlikely 3-2 victory over the host Australians in the Davis Cup final in Melbourne. He went 2-0 in his matches, stunning world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in five sets in the opening singles, and securing the chalice for the French by stopping hard-serving lefty Wayne Arthurs in the fifth and deciding rubber on a temporary grass court at Rod Laver Arena.

The upstart Escude is a remarkable 8-0 in his lifetime Davis Cup singles encounters, and 10-1 overall when you figure in a 2-1 doubles mark.

Last year, French tennis talk always centered around 2001 Australian Open runner-up Arnaud Clement and the aforementioned Grosjean, but it's the 25- year-old Escude who's currently fourth in the ATP Champions Race and 23rd overall in the tour's official world rankings, the Singles Entry System.

Escude placed a respectable 27th in the 2001 Champions Race.

The 6-1, 155-pound Geneva resident entered this 2002 campaign with a just- above-average lifetime singles mark of 111-93, but his 2001 season did include a series of highlights, including the title in Rotterdam (as a qualifier), a trip to a semifinal in Qatar, and a trio of other quarterfinal appearances, including one at storied Wimbledon. His quality '01 campaign also featured a perfect 5-0 ledger in Davis Cup play.

The week before his second title in Rotterdam, Escude made it to the final in Marseille in his native France, only to lose to resurgent Swede Thomas Enqvist in three sets. He did, however, pair with Clement to win the doubles crown in Marseille.

And a week before that, the rising star advanced to the semis in Milan, where he lost to eventual champion Davide Sanguinetti of the host nation.

In Rotterdam, Escude's list of victims also included Spain's top player, Juan Carlos Ferrero, rising Spaniard Tommy Robredo, and Federer, whom he defeated in last year's indoor-hardcourt final.

He's currently 9-1 in his last 10 matches and enjoying a much-needed break from the circuit this week. Escude has reached at least the quarterfinals in four of his five events in the early part of this year.

At the 2002 Australian Open, Escude was a third-round victim at the hands of legendary American Pete Sampras, who needed all five sets to stave off his European counterpart.

In 2001, Escude finished in the top 30 for the first time in his career and pocketed a career-high $663,479. He's already piled up an ATP-third-best $211,408 this season, bringing his all-time total to just over $2.284 million.

The natural lefthander has trained since he was a child to play tennis righthanded, but does everything else as a southpaw, i.e. writing, throwing, etc.

A wine connoisseur, the gutsy Escude can also argue his case as a tennis aficionado for the time being.

FYI, the aspiring-No. 1 Escude is 3-2 lifetime against the current world No. 1 Hewitt and a perfect 4-0 versus the current Champions Race leader, Aussie Open titlist Thomas Johansson.

I think the Frenchman's for real!

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