New, improved Monfils ready for Berrettini test at Australian Open
Frenchman Gael Monfils is playing with freedom and purpose as he prepares to face the Wimbledon runner-up for a place in the semis in Melbourne
It is probably not stretching things too far to suggest that, with the exception of an Ash Barty victory, there would be no more popular champion at this year’s Australian Open than Gael Monfils, should the Frenchman somehow manage to claim his first Grand Slam title.
Seemingly playing with a renewed belief and confidence, the 35-year-old is into his 10th Grand Slam quarter-final and into the last eight of the Australian Open for the first time in six years, his 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over Miomir Kecmanovic putting him into the quarters of a slam without dropping a set for the third time.
Gael Monfils: “I’m not finished yet”
We’ve been here before, of course. Monfils has looked a world-beater at Grand Slams on a number of occasions only to fall short, usually thanks to the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. This time, though, there is no Djokovic and Monfils has now come through the section of the draw vacated by Djokovic’s deportation to claim his place in the last eight, where he will play Matteo Berrettini, a three-set winner over Pablo Carreno Busta in the day’s final match.
But there seems something different about Monfils in 2022. Perhaps it’s life as a married man after his wedding to Elina Svitolina last year. Perhaps it’s a realisation that he does not have too much time left at the top. Maybe it’s being back in front of crowds after their absence due to Covid-19 left him flat. Whatever it is, it’s working, as he showed when winning his 11th title – and first for two years – in Adelaide at the start of the year.
“I don’t know if it’s a secret, but I guess is a lot of work, a lot of belief, strong mindset, you know, coming up this new season, you know, and just want to be better in 2022 than 2021. Of course a bit of luck of everything,” Monfils told reporters. And when asked how he thought he was playing in his on-court interview, he added: “I’m not finished yet.”
“To be honest, (it’s) just like hard work. As I say, last year at the end of the season, I was feeling great, feeling better. I was very close, and I think at the beginning just like keep, as I said, believe and working hard, and I was a little bit more lucky at the beginning of the season, and so far, you know, so good.”
Berrettini makes history for Italy
Standing between Monfils and the last four is Matteo Berrettini, the Italian who reached his first slam final at Wimbledon last year and who is fast becoming a consistent performer in all four of the slams. Berrettini beat Carreno Busta 7-5, 7-6 (4), 6-4 to reach the last eight, becoming the first Italian man to reach at least the quarters of all four Grand Slam events.
Berrettini has won both his previous two matches with Monfils, kincluding a thrilling encounter at the US Open in 2019, when he won a fifth-set tiebreak at the same stage. One thing’s for sure, this one’s likely to be high on firepower.
“Matteo (has had) a lot of confidence for last two years,” Monfils said. “I think he played extremely aggressive, big serve, flashy tennis with the forehand. Going for it. Last time I played him, again, I was a little bit, whatever you call it, unlucky or not, it was very tight, five-setter in quarters, as well, in a slam. It’s gonna be a tough match.”
For his part, Berrettini says he’s ready for everything Monfils throws at him.
“For sure he’s an experienced player, and he’s been in these kind of situations, these matches in slams so many times, but I also think that I did the same,” he said. “Obviously he has way more matches and way more experience. He’s 10 years older, but in a way, he’s really young because his body, it’s great. Like he’s moving really well, and he’s a tricky player. I have good memories when I played him last time in a quarter-finals in a slam, so hopefully it’s gonna be a good one too.”