This is its charm and its limit too. Gaël Monfils remains an elusive object even after 17 years of career. The Frenchman is capable of overturning a badly embarked match, only to lose it sometimes and without really knowing why.
Tuesday, January 25 in Melbourne, the quarter-final of the Australian Open against Matteo Berrettini came confirmed that with Monfils, heaven and hell are never far away. The Italian, world number 7 won in five sets (6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2) and will challenge Rafael Nadal on Friday for a place in the final.
In 2019, Matteo Berrettini made a name for himself with his semi-final at the US Open. He had then beaten Gaël Monfils – in 5 sets already – in the quarter-finals before falling, in three sets, against Nadal. Already him. Tuesday, at the start of the fifth round, Berrettini’s value was however in free fall after the loss of the 3rd and 4th sets. Dominant at the start of the game, the Roman seemed lost on the Rod Laver Arena against an invigorated and dominating Monfils in the exchange.
“I thought I would hold it in the 3rd set and I found myself in the 5th…”
The Frenchman, seeded number 20, was no longer 35 and his opponent seemed to blame the five hours more spent on the court since the start of the tournament. Like a Nadal faced with the same situation against the Canadian Denis Shapovalov earlier in the day, Berretini then went through the locker room for a six-minute cool break (compared to eight for the Spaniard) to cut the rhythm of a Monfils in full “remontada”.
Time for the “Monfilsologue” to exhume the Frenchman’s previous six Grand Slams, the most cruel dating back to a quarter-final in Paris against Andy Murray in 2014. In front of a Central-Chatrier finally awake and ready to carry his champion, Gaël Monfils had come back two sets behind and was only to make short work of the Scot then cooked like a haggis. Error. As absent from his own match, the Parisian took a bubble in the 5th set (6-0).
In Melbourne, Monfils scored well in two games. The others, he gave them to Berretini by gross unforced errors. Asked about the Rod-Laver Arena after this victory, the finalist of the last Wimbledon had the smile of someone who had come back from afar. “What a battle! I thought I could hold it in the 3rd set and I ended up in the 5th… But I fought and that’s why I’m very happy”.
The insolent health of Italian tennis
French tennis has been singing the same refrain for years with the most unpredictable of its “Musketeers”. Well in his head and in his body on a Grand Slam tournament, Monfils can go all the way if the opportunity arises.
In Australia, in a top of the table cleared of the now annoying presence of Novak Djokovic, the Habs could dream of a first Major final with on their way a Berretini exhausted by a complicated course, then a Nadal still hampered by an injury to the abs.
This missed opportunity adds to others. But the Monfils 2022 gives some hope after a year and a half of gamberge. The fault of a tennis placed under a health bubble due to the health crisis. Without an audience, Monfils the demonstrative had lost the flame. Good news, she’s back. It remains to keep it for the duration of a match, a tournament.
“In a way, I don’t lose faith. I need once, said the Frenchman. I won’t win 20 [tournois du Grand Chelem comme Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic ou Roger Federer], but once, just once I need. I work for that. I still believe I can do it. »
For Italian tennis, the party is far from over. “It’s unbelievable, but I hope that tomorrow we will be two”, commented Berretini in reference to his compatriot Jannik Sinner opposed, Wednesday, to the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas (4th).
“In 2000, Italian men’s tennis was part of the Third World. We had no player in the top 100., recalls Angelo Binaghi, president of the federation since 2001, in an interview with L’Equipe on Tuesday. To explain this success, the manager says he took the example of the French system… in terms of organization and structures. To believe that the copy has exceeded the model.