27-02-2020 a significant date in the career of Gael Monfils. ‘La Monf’, as his contemporaries call him, had just beaten countryman Richard Gasquet to make the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Championships. Nobody expected him to win his next match. But nobody thought he wouldn’t have won a match since either.
Who will Monfils point the finger onto for this shocker? Novak Djokovic? It was the Serb who fueled the nightmare. The world #1 saved three match points in their last four showdown in Dubai, in a true feat of escapology to hand the Frenchman a chastening loss, the 17th he had suffered at Djokovic’s hands without reply.
Monfils had been on a roll up to that point, winning back-to-back titles in Montpellier and Rotterdam, and he was on the cusp of completing a rare three-peat in February. With the coronavirus pandemic heavily disrupting the tennis calendar, Monfils played in just four tournaments once the sport resumed last August. He lost in the first round of each of those four tournaments. He also failed to complete his last match in Vienna, retiring while trailing 1-6 0-2 to Pablo Carreno Busta.
As tennis struggles into another bubble-bound year, it must have felt like a beacon of light for the 34-year-old to start the new season on a clean slate. Defeat to Matteo Berrettini at the ATP Cup was somehow easy to digest. But he hit a new low with his latest defeat in the first round of the Australian Open to 86th-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori. The 21-year-old Finn was incidentally Monfils’ practice partner in quarantine. He earned one of the best wins of his fledgling career in a five set marathon.
In the post-match interview, an emotional Gael Monfils burst into tears. In his last 13 visits to Melbourne Park, he had never lost in the first round. But in Ruusuvuori, he met an opponent who showed little sympathy. The world no.86 was making his main draw debut at the Australian Open. And he knocked out the first top 10 seed of the week. He saved a whopping 17 of 23 break points, pummeling away winners from nearly every side of the slick Melbourne court.
Gael Monfils, who lost in 5 to Ruusuvuori: "I would like to get out of this nightmare but I can't."
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) February 8, 2021
08.02.2021, it seems Monfils is in a hole which he cannot stop digging for himself. For a player who started the 2020 season in terrific form, it is alarming he can’t quite figure what hit him. When will his next win come from? For now we don’t know. But it will certainly be an emotional one.
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