Careening into the corner with all the speed of a man vaulting onto the court from a fleeing flat-bed truck, Gael Monfils skidded into a sliding split with so much force a piece of his K-Swiss sneaker came flying off into the air. Too engaged in his passionate pursuit of the ball, Monfils had more pressing matters on his mind: avoid French kissing the blue wall that loomed large in his path.
Monfils skidded to a stop before the collision, but even when Monfils loses a point he entertains.
The 17th-seeded Frenchman fought off Janko Tipsarevic, 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 on the Grandstand Court.
Meanwhile, on Court 11, Monfils’ friend and former doubles partner Richard Gasquet downsized towering South African Kevin Anderson, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5, to set up an appealing French fourth round showdown.
Six Frenchmen — Monfils, Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Michael Llodra, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Arnaud Clement — started this day of play still alive in the men’s draw.
Second-seeded Roger Federer dismissed Mathieu, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, on Ashe Stadium and Fish fought off the 32-year-old Clement in a stirring 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 triumph to advance to a fourth-round meeting with either good friend and frequent golf buddy James Blake or third-seeded Novak Djokovic.
Monfils vs. Gasquet may well be one of the most exciting fourth-round clashes on the men’s side. Certainly Fish’s fourth-rounder will garner the most attention of any round of 16 match and deservedly so. But if you derive pure pleasure from seeing skilled shotmakers paint the court with impressionistic imagination then the first US Open meeting between the pair is the popcorn match of the fourth round.
Both Gasquet and Monfils are capable of producing eye-popping winners from virtually any position on court and both are fascinating to watch because they will drop back so far behind the baseline you might think they’re heading to Hoboken before dashing forward to net.
“I think Richard is more talented than me in couple ways,” Monfils said. “Like he can adapt more about the conditions. Then I think I’m stronger than him physically, and maybe a bit mentally, also. Sometime he is like too defensive, like me. So actually it will be a good match, and we will see who’s going to put like more pressure on the opponent.”
The animated Monfils plays with such explosiveness — and exuberant enthusiasm — he should consider enlisting a stunt double to celebrate his winners as the practice has proven to be a health hazard for him in the past. Monfils’ celebratory leap abruptly came to a calamitous crash landing in Madrid in October of 2006 when the festive Frenchman strained ligaments in his right ankle on an awkward landing after a post-point jump of jubilation in the second set of his Madrid match with Dominik Hrbaty. The injury limited him to one match for the rest of the 2006 season.
Avoiding a collision with the wall today, Monfils used his speed to force Tipsarevic, who was bothered by a bad ankle and took treatment for a strained hamstring, into pulling the trigger quickly in points.
Tipsarevic played powerful, passionate and crowd-pleasing tennis in his four-set triumph over Andy Roddick in the second round but poured so much of himself into the match he was physically depleted today.
“That wasn’t the main reason I lost,” Tipsarevic said. “I’m sad to say I am not fit enough to progress in the tournament. I just couldn’t execute. Gael is a big-time player. He’s extremely tough to make shots against because he gets to so many balls. I had 39 aces in the first two matches and just four today. Yes, I was feeling pain and was frightened a bit about my leg, but the leg had almost nothing to do with my loss.”
A former junior World No. 1, Monfils won every junior major except for the US Open.
An NBA fanatic who is a Carmelo Anthony fan, the 6-foot-4, loose-limbed Monfils has an elastic ability to bend his body into positions previously realized only by cartoon characters and contortionists. He thrives off the buzz New York City fans bring to the Open.
“I love the atmosphere. I love the city, also,” Monfils said. “I mean, actually the States when I was young, and I was like looking for two things: One, the Orange Bowl, and another thing the US Open junior for sure, and I didn’t (win either). I fail like twice in final in Orange Bowl. I came here with injury the year when I won the other three (junior Grand Slams). I mean, here is like now I’m in seniors, so I really want to win this one, also. I love the surface here; I love the crowd; I love the Ashe Stadium. So I feel very good and comfortable here.”
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.