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French Open: Gael Monfils stirs up French hopes; Murray ousts Verdasco to join him in the quarters

Anand Datla
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 02 Jun 2014, 23:22 IST
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Gael Monfils acknowledging the crowd after beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez

Gael Monfils warmed French hearts in the evening chill, outplaying Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to reach the quarter-finals and keep French hopes warm for a first home grown hero since Yannick Noah in 1984. Monfils won 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to advance to the last eight. Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco started their match before Monfils, but after an abrasive battle Murray won the intensely tight contest 6-4, 7-5, 7-6(3) to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open.

Monfils and Garcia-Lopez wasted no time getting stuck into their contest. The first game went to deuce and the Frenchman took advantage of an edgy start from the Spaniard to break serve. Very soon a packed Phillippe Chatrier was lustily cheering their last remaining hero. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet had disappointed with insipid performances in their last matches at the event.

Ever the showman, Monfils roused an already excited crowd with a flicked backhand winner from behind him to break a second time and jump to a 3-0 lead. Monfils has been to the last eight of this grand slam on three previous occasions, but the last of those runs came in 2011. He seemed intent to do all he can to change that this year.

A third break of serve took the score to 5-0, but that was far from a reflection of the contest on the court. But for all his effort, there wasn’t much Garcia-Lopez could do to prevent a washout. The Spaniard’s 13 unforced errors compromised him rather badly and Monfils converted 3 of 4 opportunities to break and seal the 22 minute first set in his favour.

The winner of this match was to face the victor between Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco, who were playing simultaneously on court Suzanne Lenglen. The Scot had taken the first set too about the same time after a far more even contest with his Spanish opponent. Verdasco had game points for the tenth game, but opened a window for Murray who walked in to force break points.

The first went begging, but on the second a lengthy rally ensued. The tennis was middling at best, but it never failed to engage the packed stadium. Verdasco floated a rather lame slice volley into the net to surrender the vital break and Murray grabbed it with both hands, serving out the first set in the next game.

At the start of the second set, Garcia-Lopez finally got his name on the scoresheet, taking the first game on his serve. With renewed confidence, he troubled Monfils when he sought to serve next, even extracting a couple of break points. A lucky net cord and a great forehand winner ensured that he did not cede any momentum to his opponent.

In the third game, it was Monfils again who indulged Garcia-Lopez in a lengthy rally at 0-30. The point ended with the Spaniard sailing a forehand long from midcourt to offer three break points to the Frenchman. Monfils needed just the one to convert and snatch the advantage yet again. As much as he was trying Garcia-Lopez was far from consistent off the ground.

At 3-1 in the second, this was turning out to be another one sided contest on the biggest show court in France. Only poor Garcia-Lopez was trying harder only to undo the good work with yet another error. A mistimed forehand and a backhand into the net at 40-15 in the fifth game summed up his afternoon rather well. And Monfils stung again, with a cross court forehand winner to claim another break.

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Monfils gained three set points with a deftly placed half volley and cleaned up the set with a feathery drop shot. Not even an hour passed by on the clock, but the delighted French wouldn’t mind a little less play on their tickets if it meant a comfortable victory for their hero. Nearly 90 minutes into their match on Lenglen, Murray and Verdasco were yet to find any decisive edge in the second set at 4-4.

That break came toward the fag end of the second, in the eleventh game. Verdasco fell to 15-40 when he flailed a forehand wide before tucking one into the net to allow Murray the luxury of serving for a two set lead. The Scot did just that when he clinched a tight deuce game with a backhand down the line winner to close it 7-5.

Meanwhile, at 1-2 in the third with a break already given away, it appeared Garcia-Lopez was all but done. But he sprang to life even as Monfils stuttered into a sudden stupor. The Spaniard broke serve twice in a row to jump to a 4-2 lead. Knowing that he was bringing a dead cow back to life, Monfils played with renewed urgency in the seventh game.

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When Garcia-Lopez dumped a volley in the net the Frenchman had three break back points. The first two of those were saved, but a lengthy rally on the third point finished well for Monfils when his opponent courted the net again. The set was back on serve. It wasn’t case in that match between Murray and Verdasco.

Looking tired despite marching indoors after the second set, Verdasco gifted a break in the very first game and Murray lapped it up to surge ahead 2-0. The Spaniard has fought back from two sets down in the past, five times in his career, but it was clear today was not going to be the sixth time. Meanwhile, Monfils corrected his stutter in the third and brought it back to level at 4-4.

Serving to keep it alive in the third, at 4-5, Monfils showed signs of fragility. He threw in a pair of double faults but somehow survived to hold serve, feeding off some vocal support from the partisan crowd. At 15-40 in the next game, Garcia-Lopez was staring down the barrel. But he played determined tennis to take the game to deuce.

But the unrelenting Monfils struck a cross court forehand winner to claim his fourth break point of the game. Some brilliant defense was on display from the showman on the next point before the Spaniard netted a forehand to hand a decisive break. The stadium erupted into a Mexican wave to cheer Monfils as he set out to serve for the match.

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Soon, Garcia-Lopez sailed a forehand return wide to offer three match points to an immensely popular Monfils. An ace brought the capacity crowd to its feet as they roared in unison for their last remaining hero. Out on Lenglen, Murray enjoyed a bucketful of break points in the third set, but Verdasco hung on by the skin of his teeth.

A second break was most certainly fatal. But saving himself again in the seventh game, Verdasco Murray with a thundering forehand winner to claw even at 4-4. A match which seemed all but settled was back alive. With Verdasco suddenly discovering some faith in himself, the set slipped into a tie-breaker.

Murray ran out 3-0 at the start of it, but yet again Verdasco reeled him back to even terms when they changed ends. But serving at 4-3, the Spaniard lost his focus one last time and the Scot took advantage to gain two minibreaks. With three match points in his kitty, he was comforted again and put away an easy smash to complete a hard fought win.

Published 02 Jun 2014, 23:08 IST
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