Rotterdam 2020: Gael Monfils beats Auger-Aliassime to win 10th title – back-to-back for first time

Frenchman adds Rotterdam to Montpellier after winning his nine titles in nine different years

Gael Monfils
Gael Monfils (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Both finalists at this year’s ABN AMRO Tennis Tournament had reached this final match without facing a seed, but only one of them had the chance to win the title with the same clean slate—the defending champion Gael Monfils.

The tall, athletic Frenchman was back from his victory in the Dutch city last year after one his best seasons. Indeed he fell just one match short of reaching the ATP Finals in 2019 after losing his quarter-final at the Paris Masters in October. He was now on an eight-match winning streak after winning in Montpellier last week, and had not dropped a set since his first round there. And while he had not faced a seed, there is such strength and depth in Rotterdam that he still faced a couple of the fastest improving players of the last few months, Dan Evans and Filip Krajinovic.

As for Rotterdam, it was proving to be one of the most successful tournaments in Monfils’s 16-year career. The No3 seed was on a nine-match streak in the Dutch city, for he also reached the final in 2016—his most recent appearance prior to last year—and was thus up 13 wins in his last 14 matches at the first ATP500 event in the calendar.

His opponent, Felix Auger-Aliassime, was the youngest player ever to reach the Rotterdam final, beating the record of Roger Federer set back in 2001. The young Canadian does not turn 20 until August yet he was now into his fourth final, his second at the 500 level, his first on a hard court, and all from a ranking outside the top 100 just a year ago. And for all his tender years, his performances against tough, albeit unseeded, opposition this week had caught the eye of the Dutch fans.

But then although Auger-Aliassmie was unseeded, the 21-ranked man had missed the eight-seed cut-off by only two players, and had enjoyed a high of 17 late last year after that stunning break-out season. And his quality was underlined by wins over the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Aljaz Bedene and Pablo Carreno Busta.

Both men had stacked up great serving stats through the week, and Auger-Aliassime had to find that serving and his aggressive forehand to stave off 0-40 in the third game of the match. He showed extraordinary composure and confidence to reel off five straight points, and the crowd was already fully engaged by this energetic contest.

But on the Canadian’s next serve, it was Monfils who reeled off four straight points to break after a double fault from Auger-Aliassime, and then he had two more break chances at 4-2 after two more double faults from the youngster. Sure enough, the defending champion broke as a Canadian forehand went wide, and served out the set, 6-2.

Auger-Aliassime was making too many errors, and in particular his 12 forehand errors did him no favours. Monfils was playing way back in the court, and the Canadian needed to mix up the spin and pace to knock the Frenchman out of his baseline speed and pace. But tactically, and perhaps emotionally, the Canadian was floundering, and another error handed over a love break in the first game of the second set.

Suddenly, the super-mature teenager looked his age, a little lost and more than a little out of his depth. He had now lost 10 points in a row, though he finally broke the run by switching his tactics with some angled backhand slice.

But Monfils was playing with such ease and assurance, on serve and in defence, that there was little that Auger-Aliassime seemed able to do. Another break took the Frenchman to 4-1, and the teenager soon found himself serving at 5-1 down, with a second-set average of well under 50 percent.

He held on for 2-5, and saved two match points with the kind of explosive tennis that had got him into the final, and then two more with first-strike returns. A drop-shot teaser, and he had one break back, 3-5.

Auger-Aliassime continued to fire up his huge forehand to hold with relative ease, 4-5, but now he needed to break again, and that proved a step too far. Monfils delivered the killer serve to take the title, 6-4, after an hour and 26 minutes, and gave his young French-speaking opponent the warmest of embraces and words.

The Canadian was clearly disappointed in his performance, his head and shoulders drooped just a little, and it was easy to understand why: 20 winners, but 32 errors, 21 of them on his usually-solid forehand.

He responded well, though, admitting that four finals without a win was ‘tough’, but he congratulated Monfils, “a great person and a great friend”, before thanking a crowd that had taken this young player to their hearts.

Auger-Aliassime is back in the top 20, and surely that first title is not far away, but Monfils deserves much credit. At the age of 33, he appears fitter and more focused than at any time in his long and entertaining career. He addressed the Ahoy faithful with a smile:

“Last year was amazing, but this one was even better.”

And if he can compete week in, week out, without falling prey so often to injuries, he may end 2020 ‘even better’, too, and be among that last eight for London’s last hurrah.

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