It was one of the more surprising tennis stories of 2015, the unseeded Kiwi pair of Artem Sitak and Marcus Daniell winning the ATP doubles title in Montpellier, France. They beat Gael Monfils in the first round, saved a match point in the quarter final and won the title 16-14 in a Super Tiebreak.
Sitak and Daniell are back in the south of France for their title defence and play Italian Andrea Arnaboldi and Spaniard Marc Lopez tonight.
The Kiwis are striving to qualify for the Rio Olympics, a tall order for a pair ranked well outside the top 16. Their failure to win their first round match at the Australian Open was a setback. But Daniell says they are playing well and have time to improve their combined ranking before June's cut off for Olympic selection.
Marcus Daniell talks to Matt Brown ahead of the title defence in France
"It was a very close match in Melbourne (6-3, 4-6, 6-4) and those guys we played (13th seeds Raven Klassen and Rajeev Ram) went onto beat the Bryan brothers and lost in a third set tiebreaker to the guys who won the tournament. We know we are playing at the highest level and competing with the guys at the top of their game. We are gelling well on court and in a good space mentally."Daniell said.
Daniell and Sitak are unseeded again for their title defence in Montpellier but don't feel any additional pressure.
"Defending a title is only as big as you make it in your mind. In the end you just have to win tennis matches and we are taking it in that sense rather than thinking we have to defend the title. We are just taking it one match at a time and are felling good."
Reflecting on last year's success, Daniell says it was an intense week. "I remember we played our first round against Gael Monfils in a full stadium of seven or eight thousand people. When we got through that we relaxed, and actually had a match point against us in the quarter finals. Then the momentum kept building and it was 16-14 in the Super Tiebreak in the final so was a hell of a way to win the tournament."
The Kiwis will head to the US following the tournament to play the Memphis ATP tournament and depending on cuts for the following week will play Delray Beach or Rio before a week in Mexico ahead of the Davis Cup tie in Korea in early March.