Monday, May 30, 2011

Monfils in a Thriller

Gael Monfils kept the French hopes alive when he scored a thrilling five set win over David Ferrer.

Suzanne Lenglen erupts in applause, as Gael Monfils advances with a thrilling 6-4, 2-6. 7-5, 1-6, 8-6 win over David Ferrer.

This was a match of contrast. Ferrer, the indefatigable grinder, who John McEnroe credited with maximizing every ounce of ability he has on a tennis court, and Monfils, the flying spirit who ebbs and flows with the tone of his emotions.

Tennis Channel's Ted Robinson called it the marvelously expressive face of Gael Monfils. But it took some time for the smile to appear. We all know the face (the marvelously expressive one), but we all also saw the look of agony in Monfils' eyes when he had watched three match points quickly disappear against the determined Spaniard just a few minutes earlier.

That's what made this episode in tennis tightrope walking all the more compelling. Oh no, thought the French. Oh yes, thought Ferrer.

As Ferrer leveled the match at 5-5 in the fifth set, we wondered:

Would it be the consummate pro Ferrer, who leaves no stone unturned in his constant quest for victory against opponents who are taller, faster, and more powerful than he? Or would it be the mercurial yet effervescent Monfils, who embodies the bubbly quality of French champagne?

They say that life is not what happens to you but how you react to what happens to you. Ferrer had stared down three match points with the type of courage that is so frequently born of desperation -- now how would Monfils react to that?

Turns out, he'd be fine. It wasn't always pretty, and at times, when Monfils was slumped over his racquet after long rallies, a pained expression on his soon-to-be joyous face, it looked downright fatalistic for Monfils.

The margins were thin, with Monfils winning 165 points and Ferrer winning 164. But the last point -- the decisive won -- would go to Monfils.

In slow motion, watching Monfils face go from riveted concentration as he approached Ferrer's volleyed attempt at a winner, to relaxed jubilation as his forehand sailed past Ferrer to land comfortably inside the line, was to know the hopes of the French here at Roland Garros.

They are not without prayers.

Nobody expects a French singles player to win another match here at Roland Garros, but that does nothing to quell the enthusiasm of the French faithful. They want to believe that the spirit of Yannick Noah lives in Monfils, and even if it doesn't, another look La Monf's scintillating game makes for a great afternoon in the sun.

The faithful will be back tomorrow to see how Monfils reacts to what happens to him next. What happens to him next will be Roger Federer, so it ought to be pretty compelling stuff, win or lose.

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