Gael Monfils took out Frances Tiafoe 6-1 7-6 in the third round of the 2021 National Bank Open. The 34-year-old won consecutive matches for the first time since the pandemic and made his first quarterfinal at ATP Masters 1000 level in almost two years.
Gael Monfils in 2020
Monfils had a brilliant start to the 2020 season, winning twelve matches on the spin and taking titles at Rotterdam and Montpellier (which made it the only season in his career with multiple Tour-level trophies). The Frenchman went on to reach the semifinals at Dubai, where he missed three match points to defeat Novak Djokovic. (The ATP head-to-head between them now stands at 17-0 for the World No. 1.)
In brilliant form before the pandemic, Monfils had one of the biggest disparities in results between the “pre-covid” period and after the tour restart. The Frenchman lost all four matches he played in the fall of 2020 and couldn’t get himself together this year, winning just three times in ten events.
But it looks like the sun might shine again for Monfils as the National Bank Open came along, an event the 34-year-old made the semifinals in twice before (once in Montreal and Toronto each). Despite his horrendous form in recent months, the ranking freeze allowed Monfils to remain seeded for the event, which in turn gave him a first-round bye. The Frenchman then took out John Millman in a tough three-set battle before approaching the in-form Tiafoe, who was fresh after scoring a stunning upset over Denis Shapovalov.
Finally Finding his Form
Out of the blue, Monfils played his best match since the pandemic. Winning 84% of his first-serve points, he was able to dismantle Tiafoe six games to one in the opening set. The American fought back from a 1-6 2-4 deficit to force a tie-breaker, but Monfils got the better of his younger opponent in the most important moments. He sealed the deal in just under an hour and a half with a forehand winner.
The two shared a very sweet moment at the net after the match as Tiafoe admitted to being a fan of Monfils: “I looked up to you as a kid man, I want to see you play for many more years, bro.” The American also pointed out the 34-year-old’s return to form, saying he’s “back to where [he was].”
Monfils will take on John Isner in the quarterfinals, revisiting a rivalry that dates back all the way to Washington 2007. The Frenchman leads the other veteran on professional courts 7-5, and their clash of styles has always been really exciting to watch. In their Friday’s quarterfinal, we’ll get to check out if Monfils’s sublime counter-punching can still match Isner’s booming serve.
Main Photo from Getty.