Dubai 2017: Fernando Verdasco beats Gael Monfils to continue dream run to semis
Fernando Verdasco beats Gael Monfils 6-3 7-5 to reach the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Championships
The tournament may be celebrating its 25th anniversary, but the tennis gods have not been entirely kind to the Dubai Duty Free Championships this week.
The qualifying event over the weekend was hit by the unseasonably wet weather that has been drifting across this region, and could not be completed until the opening day of the main draw.
By the end of the first round, the No2 seed and defending champion Stan Wawrinka had gone, along with fellow seed No8 Gilles Muller.
By the conclusion of the second round, seven-time champion and No3 seed Roger Federer had made a dramatic three-set exit to a qualifier, along with two-time finalist and No5 seed Tomas Berdych, and wild card No6 seed Roberto Bautista Agut also headed home.
So, as the quarter-finals got underway, there were just three seeds remaining, key among them being world No1 Andy Murray.
But along with two particularly charismatic fellow seeds in Gael Monfils and Lucas Pouille, the draw did feature some fascinating new faces.
Both No66 Robin Haase and No77 Damir Dzumhur were making their debuts here. Both had reached one quarter-final earlier this year, and both would now face off in the quarters here. The former had beaten Berdych to do so, the latter Wawrinka. They had met twice before, both times on clay, both wins for the 24-year-old Dzumhur.
This would be different: hard, fast courts suited the bigger game of the bigger Haase—who stands 6ins taller than Dzumhur—and he came through a see-sawing match of multiple breaks, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
Haase would take on the winner between two popular veterans of the tour, No4 seed Gael Monfils and the 35-ranked 33-year-old Fernando Verdasco.
Both can be unpredictable players: Indeed in his defeat of Bautista Agut, Verdasco had hit 10 aces. But the former top-10 Spaniard who has reached the semis of the Australian Open and the quarters at Wimbledon and the US Open, has found some consistency this season. He beat David Goffin and Ivo Karlovic en route to the Doha semis, where he held match points against Novak Djokovic before losing.
Monfils, for his part, returned to the top 10 and qualified for the World Tour Finals for the first time last November. He had almost come unstuck against Dan Evans in the second round here, but had won all three of his matches against Verdasco.
They joined battle from the baseline in the first couple of games, which lasted 11 minutes and gave Verdasco an early advantage. He held on to that lead through the set, and after a nervy opening double fault, served out the set to 15, 6-3.
Monfils opened the second set strongly, but Verdasco thus far was showing few blips. Indeed, it was a Monfils double fault that brought the first break of the set. The Frenchman saved two break points in the seventh game, too, while Verdasco held to love with an ace, 5-3.
But after a break for rain—and it had again been drizzling on and off for the last couple of hours—Monfils came back to hold, perhaps helped by the chance to regroup. Now, though, the Verdasco serve let him down. A double fault followed by two overhit forehands, and Monfils had the break back.
They now had 18 errors apiece, but Monfils added to them to offer up two break chances, and Verdasco struck one last winner onto the baseline to grab the advantage back.
Now it was the inconsistent Monfils who surfaced, while Verdasco played the patient game to give the Frenchman room for four errors in row. With another break in the bag, the Spaniard would not waver again, and served out impressively to love, 7-5.
Verdasco was, of course, delighted to make his first semi-final here, though still wore his game face ready for a winnable match against the lower ranked Haase.
“Well, I think I played almost perfect match. Maybe I could be a little bit more aggressive on my serve, but of course if I look more for an aggressive serve, my percentage will go down, and I think against him, playing with second serves, I would be defending on many points.”
As a matter of fact, Verdasco served at 84 percent for the match and hit only two double faults, a considerable improvement over the last round.
“[Monfils] is a super-solid player, and the last game I knew that he was going to put all the balls in and high and deep, and it was not going to be easy for me to dictate the point. So, you know, very happy, and I’m in semi-finals now.”
The bottom half of the draw, then, will be contested by two men ranked outside the top 30. Time would tell whether that scenario would extend to the top half, but the recent form of Murray and Pouille suggested not.