Davis Cup exile and food allergy: Laaksonen eyes Djokovic shock

Paris (AFP) –


Once banished from the Davis Cup and seeing his career plunged into crisis by a mysterious food allergy, Henri Laaksonen finally gets his moment in the Grand Slam spotlight on Thursday when he faces Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros.

Think Swiss men's tennis and the thought process is dominated by 20-time Grand Slam title winner Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, who has three majors to his name.

Not many think of 27-year-old Laaksonen, the Finnish-born world number 104 who got into the French Open main draw as a lucky loser when America's Sam Querrey pulled out.

He made the most of his unexpected stroke of fortune by registering his first win in the tournament by seeing off Spain's Pedro Martinez.

Next up, a battle with world number one Djokovic on Thursday for a place in the third round.

However, fortune and favour have not always smiled on Laaksonen.

Back in 2013, he was dropped from the Swiss Davis Cup team for "bad behaviour".

"His behaviour in training was unacceptable, he showed a total lack of respect," said team captain Severin Luthi.

Laaksonen was eventually fined before being welcomed back into the fold although he was to play no part in Switzerland's 2014 final triumph over France.

Last year, he was laid low when he developed a sudden and painful allergy to seafood, despite having consumed it virtually every day for most of his life.

He started developing pain in his ligaments and joints after eating seafood and was often confined to bed.

He won just one match in a six-month period last year before deciding to see if his favourite food was at the root of his problems.

"I ate it (fish) and directly the next day I got a fever again (38 degrees), and all the tendons, ligaments... I had pain," Laaksonen told ATPTour.com this week.

However, when he swore off fish, he could practice and play.

In January, a rejuvenated Laaksonen won his first ever match at a major when he came through qualifying to reach the second round at the Australian Open.

On Thursday, he will meet one of the 'Big Three' for the first time when he tackles 15-time major winner Djokovic who is bidding to hold all four Slams at the same time for a second time.

"I don't know too much about him, to be honest," said Djokovic, the 2016 champion.

"I never played against him, and I did watch him play maybe once or twice. I'm going to have to do my homework and see what happens."