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Monfils catching fire in Melbourne – Frenchman primed to benefit from hole left in draw by Djokovic’s absence

Gael Monfils reached the round of 16 with a decisive win over Cristian Garin, and suddenly the Frenchman looks like a contender to make some noise in the top half of the draw.

Gael Monfils 2022 Australian Open Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 21, 2022 France’s Gael Monfils celebrates winning his third round match against Chile’s Cristian Garin || 218598_0234

Australian Open 2022 | Draw Order of play | Third round

Gael Monfils has yet to drop a set at the 2022 Australian Open, and the suddenly rejuvenated Frenchman looks primed to take advantage of the vacancy left in the top quarter of the draw by the recently deported Novak Djokovic.

The moment that Djokovic lost his case against the Australian government on the day before the main draw commenced, it was clear that there would be a giant crater in the top half of the draw. Without the 20-time Grand Slam and nine-time Australian Open champion in the draw, how would things play out and who would benefit most from his absence?

After four-plus days of play in Melbourne we are starting to get some clues – and Monfils could be primed for a breakthrough.

On Friday the 35-year-old slid past 16th-seeded Cristian Garin 7-6(4), 6-1, 6-3 to reach the round of 16 at a major for the first time since the 2020 Australian Open (he also became the third French player to reach the round of 16 20 times at a major). After a long, arduous 18 months in which the pandemic sucked all the joy from the heart of Monfils’ game, the Frenchman is connecting the dots and reconnecting with his trademark joie de vivre at an opportune moment.

Monfils is in great form, and opportunity is knocking

The former world No 6 won his 11th title at Adelaide just two weeks ago and he has carried that form into Australia, where he has lost just 20 games through three rounds.

Monfils will face 77th-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic (the man in Djokovic’s spot in the draw) next, and he’ll be the heavy favourite against the Serbian. If he’s successful he could potentially face Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals. No easy task to be sure, but the alternative would have been a round of 16 clash with Djokovic – the player that owns a 17-0 lifetime record against Monfils.

“To be honest, for sure Novak is the world No. 1, and he always beat me, I never beat him,” Monfils told reporters on Friday. “I lose to him, I lose to Roger, I lose to Rafa. When you go no matter what in a slam, for many years I’ve been losing to those big guys. Whoever is in the forefront, he’s there for a reason, so it’s going to be a big match no matter what.

“I think at that stage you don’t really think about it, you just like, okay, it’s different, but different is not easier.”

No matter how the second week plays out for Monfils we can be certain of two things: First, he has regained the mojo that made him such a lethal player before the pandemic hit. When Monfils plays with joy he isn’t just fun to watch, he’s a threat to beat anybody; second, the draw gods have been kind to Gael – he has a tremendous opportunity in front of him in Melbourne, whether he cashes in or not.

Seeds who won on Friday (3rd round): Zverev (3), Berrettini (7), Shapovalov (14), Monfils (17), Carreno Busta (19)

Seeds already out: Hurkacz (10), Norrie (12), Schwartzman (13), Garin (16), Basilashvili (21), Isner (22), Opelka (23) Sonego (25), Dimitrov (26), Humbert (29), Harris (30)

Seeds who lost on Friday (3rd round): Garin (16), Opelka (23)

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