Monfils thrills crowd with heroics
PARIS -- Fans looking for drama at the French Open should head to Court Suzanne Lenglen. For the second straight session, five-set thrillers were the order of the day.
And when Gael Monfils nervously missed two match points against David Ferrer in the fourth round, it seemed to be a case of déjà vu: Albert Montanes blew five of them on Sunday at the tournament's second show court, eventually falling to controversial Italian Fabio Fognini.
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But Monfils recovered to win 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 1-6, 8-6, taking advantage of Ferrer's seemingly mental block at Roland Garros, to maintain hopes of a first French men's winner in 28 years.
When darkness halted play Sunday night, Monfils trailed 2-0 in the fourth and there were question marks about his left ankle, which he twisted chasing a ball in the corner.
Monfils showed few ill effects upon the resumption -- which followed a five-set marathon between South Americans Alejandro Falla and Juan Ignacio Chela -- and the final two sets were on the way to being dull as Monfils stood on the baseline serving at 5-3, 40-15.
That's when the fun began. Well, for the neutrals. The locals, some of whom were eating ice cream on the hottest day of the fortnight, became edgy. Monfils, short of matches heading into his favorite and most successful event in the wake of a wrist injury, missed a short forehand into the net with Ferrer susceptible on the baseline. If that wasn't enough, on the next point, he sent a routine backhand into the net. The apprehension countered his carefree personality.
"When I missed the forehand it was OK," Monfils told reporters. "I was more p----- about the second one because I showed him I was rushing the point and I was scared to have long rallies on the match point."
Ferrer broke, part of an eight-point winning streak that made the score 5-5. Instead of tightening up, the Spaniard did the opposite, committing three unforced errors to allow Monfils back into the match mentally and not capitalizing on a break chance at 6-6. Despite saving a third match point, Ferrer crumbled in the 14th game of the set, broken at love. "Sliderman" did his thing, ending the affair by depositing a forehand down the line.
Perhaps lady luck is on Monfils' side. Always vulnerable in the first week because of his recent inactivity, he received a favorable draw, meeting two qualifiers and a wild card, none ranked inside the top 130. He was thus able to work his way into the tournament.
His reward for beating the Spaniard is another encounter against Roger Federer -- a Federer flying under the radar -- in Paris on Tuesday.
Federer downed Monfils in a tight four sets in the French Open semifinals in 2008; a year later in the quarterfinals, Monfils wasted a set point in the first and lost in three. Last year, indoors at the Paris Masters, Monfils made his breakthrough, prevailing 7-6 (7), 6-7 (1), 7-6 (4) in the semifinals for a maiden victory in six attempts versus the Swiss.
"You know, people don't talk about Roger a lot, but he's had very easy wins against all his opponents since the beginning of this tournament," Monfils said. "It's going to be a very difficult match, even more difficult than the ones I played in the past."
Monfils spent roughly an hour and 40 minutes on court Monday when it might have been a little more, although playing a combined four hours over two days isn't the type of preparation he was hoping for in facing a Federer who's looked as sharp as he ever has through four rounds at Roland Garros.
"I'm a bit stiff," Monfils said. "I need to relax. But I'll be on court, and I'll fight."
As for Ferrer, his disappointment in the French capital continued, even if he said this could have been his best Roland Garros. For a player with his clay-court pedigree, he's failed to live up to expectations. The belief is missing.
Ferrer entered the 2010 French Open as arguably the third or fourth favorite but lost to the unpredictable Jurgen Melzer in straight sets in the third round. A finalist this season in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, he would have expected more again.
"It's not the end of the world," Ferrer said. "This is just tennis. I'm going to go back home. I'll unwind for something like a week, and then I'll get ready for Wimbledon."
But for Monfils, his Wimbledon preparation is delayed by at least another day.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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