Monfils budges past Berdych in five

Monfils and Berdych shake hands at the neyt (Thanks to

Monfils and Berdych shake hands at the net (Thanks to

The draw could not have been tougher for fifth seeded Tomas Berdych: Gael Monfils in the first round. Perhaps cruel is a better word, considering Berdych’s recent fine clay form. The Frenchman in his home Major, the tournament where he has had his greatest successes, on a surface on which he plays better tennis than the Czech.

That is not to say Tomas plays badly on the clay. His win over Djokovic in Rome attests to his prowess on the stuff. But Monfils’ athleticism, his reach, his shot-making, and his consistency are just better suited to clay than Berdych’s clean hitting forward moving game.

Luckily for the fans, both men showcased those fore-mentioned positive playing traits in almost equal measure and, rare for a tennis match, at the same time, in a match that could not have been closer or have gotten the French crowd more pumped-up to perform their Parisian waves.

Monfils edged the first two sets, proving the pundits who predicted an upset had solid grounds on which to do so. The 81st ranked Frenchman, beset by injuries throughout his career, has been in good form on clay in his home country, winning a challenger a couple of weeks ago in Bordeaux and making the final of Nice last week. And while Monfil’s presence in big matches might have been lessened by his loss of form, his big match temperament had not been hit at all. The man who made the semi-finals here in ’08 and the quarters in ’09 and ’11, losing each time to Federer, found inspiration in those memories and played the solid, athletic, flairy tennis becoming of the top tenner he once was.

Berdych though is a top tenner right now. The Czech was not playing badly either, despite the two set deficit, and it seemed only deserving that he would level matters up. Maintaining his composure, the Czech won the third and fourth sets on tiebreaks, the fourth one as good a dominant display as any you are likely to see. Berdych’s pedigree was positively posing, a dizzying display of big forehands and superb volleying.

The match level, the crowd waving, the French Open had its first round classic, a match that would be made even sweeter were the home player to win. It was not long before that prospect teased us. In the final set, it was Monfils who had his chances at 1-1 but could not take them as Berdych’s serve and volleying prowess saw him through. Then came chances for Berdych at 3-2 but Monfils, characteristically keeping the errors low and the points prolonged, fought them off. He had to fight of cramps, too, as the match went deep into its fourth hour.

At 5-5, after a raucous wave from the crowd, with each rally long and deep and being won rather than lost, it was going to take one of the men to do something special to separate himself from the other. It was Monfils who stepped up. A forehand winner down the line got him to 15-30 and aggressive play that saw the Frenchman take the middle of the court and draw an error from a hurried Berdych earned the Frenchman two break points. Another error, a Berdych volley finding the net rather than landing into the open court as had been the fashion, and Monfils had the break and would serve for the match.

Monfils does not have the reputation of a closer, though. But in this match with a ranking of 81, a season littered with early exits, he was not really supposed to be serving out the match against the 5th seed in the first round of a Major. An ace over 200 kmph was a good start. On match point, a serve out wide and a deep forehand to Berdych’s backhand side that drew an error was a great finish. The Frenchman turned to his entourage and beat his fist on his chest before clasping hands with Berdych at the net, a respectful and warm congratulations worthy of a match that was by far the most difficult of the first round caliber wise and had equaled if not even bettered that caliber in its quality of play.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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