I have been touting Gael Monfils for a long, long time. And in terms of upside among the new young blood on the tour (Nadal aside) I put him among the Top 3 alongside Richard Gasquet and Novak Djokovic, and like the other two I peg him as a realistic No. 1 candidate and a future Slam champion. I just didn’t think he’d be in the mix this soon. But who am I to complain?
Monfils is an absolute raw talent with incredible potential. But he’s also a kid that needs a lot of hand-holding, direction and discipline. And unlike Djokovic, Gasquet and many others in his age range, I wasn’t convinced of his tennis smarts. He’s a great athlete and competitor no doubt and a pleasure to watch, but some of the things he does on court makes me cringe, and it’s held him back. That is until now.
Today against David Ferrer, a top five player, a US Open finalist and one of the best clay court players in the game, Monfils showed smarts, patience and the variety in his game that I think will take him to the top one day (not now mind you, but one day in the very distant future). Monfils handled Ferrer relatively easily, winning the match in convincing fashion 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 to advance to his first Grand Slam semifinal where he’ll meet Roger Federer.
Going into today’s match against Spaniard I thought Monfils had a real shot if he could just stay within himself. On a slow, heavy claycourt Ferrer is going to have trouble putting balls away especially against a speedy guy like Monfils. The key was just how much patience Gael would show, and how well he would recognize when to attack and when to defend. And to his credit he did both exceptionally well. I thought he played a near-flawless match, probably the best of his career.
But the celebrations hopefully won’t last long for Gael, for up next is Federer. And the Swiss, unlike Ferrer, is going to absolutely tattoo those off-speed groundstrokes that line in the middle of the court Monfils hits. So Gael’s going to do a lot of running against Fed. But if Roger has a few more off sets like he did at the start against Fernando Gonzalez today I think Monfils will have a chance.
As for the off sets (or mono sets if you will), let’s just say if Fed wants to beat Rafa in the final he better get that straightened out quick. It’s not going to work.
I’ll go more into that match as well as the Nadal-Djokovic semifinal tomorrow (did I mention what a great semifinal lineup it is?).
As for the women, we have a Russian semifinal and a Serbian semifinal at the French Open this year. Without Justine Henin or Serena it doesn’t have that Slam feel, but some of the tennis has been rather dramatic, especially from Dinara Safina who has saved match points in her last two wins over Maria Sharapova and against today against the choking Elena Dementieva.
My guess is Svetlana won’t do Dinara any more favors tomorrow by gagging, so Dinara’s run ends Thursday in straights. (Plus, she’s got to be a little tired after today’s match.).
Picking between the two Serbs is tough. Jelena likes to keep it in play while Ana really whacks it around the court. Ana has looked sharper thus far and I think she’ll hit just enough winners to get by setting up the Sveta-Ana final.
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