French Open 2015: ‘Pumped up’ Roger Federer beats Gael Monfils

Roger Federer beats Gael Monfils in four sets to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open for the 11th time

As if the contest for a quarter-final place between Roger Federer and Gael Monfils was not tough enough, the weather made sure it was a whole lot worse.

Originally scheduled for mid-afternoon on middle Sunday, that was the day the rains chose to come to Paris and with a vengeance. And that meant, by the time Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had dispatched Tomas Berdych, the time was almost 7.30pm, more rain was on the way, and it was unnaturally cold considering the date would click to 1 June in just over four hours’ time.

For even without such demanding conditions, this one had all the makings of tennis drama. Former champion Federer had won more matches at Roland Garros than anyone except Rafael Nadal, was playing in a record 62nd consecutive Major, and was aiming to extend his record for Roland Garros quarters—currently 10—and Grand Slam quarters—currently 43.

But this was not going to be easy. For while Federer had beaten Monfils in their three previous Roland Garros meetings, the Frenchman has always had the ability to cause the Swiss problems: His first win came at that other Paris tournament, in Bercy in 2010, a thrilling three-tie-breaks match. And few will forget how close the Frenchman came to beating Federer in the quarters of the US Open last year, taking the first two sets, and holding match points, too.

And in Monte Carlo a month ago, there could be no excuses for Federer, who had opted out of the Miami Masters to focus on his clay preparation, but had no answer to Monfils when they met in the third round, going down 4-6, 6-7(5).

So Monfils and his loyal fans had every reason to relish this latest meeting, combining that clay success and a partisan crowd that was not, unusually, behind the popular Swiss.

In the hour or so of play on Sunday night, it was Federer who silenced the crowd with a blistering opening to break straight away and take a 3-0 lead. In 29 minutes, he had the first set, 6-3, and had dropped only one point in 16 first serves.

But Monfils was just warming up. With the start of the second set, he unleashed his huge forehand and serve, playing clean, flat and deep to both wings. The wind got up, too, and Federer’s serving level plummeted. Monfils broke in the second game, out-played Federer at the net to fend off a challenge in the third.

Federer dug deep at the baseline, unable to get to the net as often as usual, and held to love for 3-5. He then attacked Monfils, taking the ball early and made a couple of majestic down-the-line strikes to break back, but a netted volley on his own serve brought up deuce and Monfils made back-to-back winners to break for the set, 6-4.

And that would be it: the light was fading, rain was looming, and the wind rattled the flags above Philippe Chatrier. They would start, all square, best of three, the next day.

And they would begin just as on the previous night, with Federer in control—though he should not have been. Monfils led 40-0 but was pulled back to deuce. Federer went flat out from the baseline on break point but shanked a backhand, so he played patient, crafty tennis on the next, with plenty of angled slice and variation of pace to open up for a forehand winner. A quick hold, and Federer led 2-0.

He had more chances in the third and the fifth, attacked the net, and made a backhand winner for three break points, but Monfils found his big tennis to hold. However, he could not break back and the set was Federer’s after a fast-paced 39 minutes, 6-4.

But unlike last night, Federer continued to read the Monfils serve well and played more solidly on his own. He thus found more openings to get to the net, and with more benign conditions, was able to place drops and pick-ups more accurately. He broke immediately with a fine pass and held for 2-1.

Now Monfils called for medical attention, had drops in his eyes, but was clearly fading. His error count grew as Federer piled on the pressure with a break to love, and a hold to love for 5-1. It took some minutes more—three deuces, two double faults, and a couple of break points—until Monfils closed proceedings with a wild forehand error, and Federer was into his 11th Roland Garros quarter-final.

Federer wasted as little time coming to press as he had in finishing off the match—presumably eager to get off for some rest and recuperation before returning a day later to play compatriot and friend Stan Wawrinka, who had reached the quarters a day earlier. But Federer was happy not just with the win but the progression.

“At this stage it’s about progressing in the tournament. I love to play my best plus progressing, I prefer moving on rather than playing my absolute best. I hope there is always an extra gear somewhere. Important right now is, I’m still physically fresh for the back end of the tournament, and, I’m pumped up to the to be in the quarters again.”

But he was not thinking to far ahead: “I’m realistic. I know there is a chance. At the same time, I know how hard it is. Just very pleased to get back in the quarters. It really means a lot to me. I feel there is a lot of tennis left for me to play here.”

There are plenty of challenges ahead too: Not just Wawrinka but then two more men who have beaten him in recent meetings, Kei Nishikori or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. And all that before the survivor of the top half, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.

As Murray, who came through a tough four-setter against Jeremy Chardy on the next court, put it, things just get more and more difficult with every match…

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