I know it’s early, like first-week-of-the-year early, but I’m already encouraged by the play of my man Gael Monfils, who earlier today knocked World No. 1 Rafael Nadal out of Doha 6-4, 6-4.
It probably wasn’t Gael’s biggest career win, but the victory tells me the kid has really come to play this year and the Top 10 is well within reach for Frenchman in 2009. And who knows, maybe even the Top 5.
I didn’t see the match, but I’ve always felt Monfils has the game to bother Nadal even though he was 0-6 in sets vs. Rafa before today. He’s just as fast as the Spaniard allowing him to run down a lot of balls, and because he stands so far back (at times) he won’t be troubled as much by Nadal’s heavy topspin. And he’s decent off the ground and can do the job at the net. Plus, he’ll get a few free points thanks to his monster serve.
With Gael, though, he really needs to keep it together physically and mentally. If he can do both – very big ifs – there’s no reason he can’t be No. 1 someday.
But in the immediate future for Monfils is a semifinal encounter Friday with Andy Roddick who’s again found his form in the Middle East – is that eight straight wins now for Roddick in the Arab Gulf after his 2008 Dubai win? I think so.
Monfils and Roddick are pretty similar. Tall guys. Athletic. Big serves, big forehands, both stand far back and occasionally make really bad, scratch-your-head type decisions. But for me Monfils is the better player overall right now – though Roddick tougher mentally. So this will be a big test for Gael because it will be very easy for him to have a letdown after that huge Nadal win. It’s hard to call, but I’ll lean ever so slightly to Gael in two tiebreaks. We’ll see.
Oh, and there’s a second semifinal in Doha tomorrow, that between two guys named Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Not a bad lineup for Friday!
A week ago we remember Murray beat Federer in Abu Dhabi, but alas, that was practice exhibition play, this time it’s for real. And this is great opportunity for Federer to really make a statement and set the tone for the Australian Open and the year by beating Murray and snapping his two-match losing skid to the Scot. And I think Roger will get the job done.
Also this week – quite a week already! – we saw Novak Djokovic get dumped by Ernests Gulbis in the first round at Brisbane. Fernando Verdasco must still be with Ana Ivanovic because he’s still winning matches while she isn’t (Ivanovic lost today to Mauresmo, remember her?). Verdasco is in the Brisbane SF to play Mathieu. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet meet there tomorrow in a quarterfinal. Wow.
Nikolay Davydenko has withdrawn from the month of January with a bad heel and Taylor Dent, who had been off the tour for a few years, made a successful return in Brisbane with a straight-set first round win over Steve Darcis. Good for him.
I’ll write up a full 2009 look ahead in the coming days, complete with my pick for year-end No. 1. Who is it? I’ll give you a hint, he wears a Nike headband and he’s not named Juan Martin.
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