Toronto: Djokovic d. Monfils
If Novak Djokovic spends three sets doing what he always does, and Gael Monfils spends three sets doing what he always does, what do you get? You get what transpired between them in their second-round match in Toronto on Wednesday. The Serb and the Frenchman gave their fans much of what they love about them, and a fair amount of what they find exasperating. And it ended the way it always does, with Djokovic improving his record to 10-0 against Monfils with a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2) win.
As often happens with these sorts of extravaganzas, it didn’t show any signs of being one through most of the first two sets. To no one’s surprise, Djokovic was in control during that time, and he appeared ready to put his customary sleeper hold on another opponent who couldn’t match his consistency. Novak was even comfortable enough to (a) come to net more often than normal, and (b) finish points with better volleys than normal once he got there. Djokovic was 33 of 42 at net on the day; only in the latter stages of the third set, when the match was on the line, did his volleys begin to betray him.
Monfils, meanwhile, put on a vintage performance. He headed a ball from the baseline to the opposite service line. He threw his racquet at a ball, and then chased the next shot down, despite not having a frame in his hand. He dove and hurt his ribs. He fired the best passing shot of the day, a crosscourt forehand bullet to save a break point. He committed nine double faults and made 55 unforced errors. He hit a 141-M.P.H. ace. He flustered Djokovic with soft, floating backhands. He was given a delay-of-game warning by chair umpire Jerry Armstrong, and then, a few points later, shot Armstrong a look when the ump wasn’t ready for a point to begin.
What mattered most, though, was that at the start of the second set, Monfils got mad. At 1-0, Djokovic hit a return that landed on the baseline, and then spurred himself on with a yell after he won the point. In response, Monfils flashed a sarcastic smile, before tomahawking an angry forehand for a winner. Monfils, shooting long looks Djokovic’s way after each point, went on to hold. From that point on, the match was a battle.
For a brief moment, it even appeared to be a battle that Monfils was going to win. As he grew more assertive, Djokovic grew more tentative. Up 4-3 in the second-set tiebreaker, three points from the match, Djokovic double-faulted and lost the set. In the third, the world No. 1 looked as if he were swinging through quicksand on his ground strokes; even when he earned the advantage in a rally, he began to hang back back rather than race forward. Monfils’ pace-less “nothing balls,” as commentator Leif Shiras called them, succeeded in completely throwing off Djokovic’s timing on his backhand—he made 26 errors from that side against just four winners. Three times, he had break points on Monfils’ serve at 5-5 in the third; three times he squandered them. In the next game, Monfils came within two points of the match twice; Djokovic was reeling, but Monfils couldn’t put a return in the court when he needed one.
Finally, in the tiebreaker, reality reasserted itself. Djokovic stopped missing, and Monfils started—a terrible backhand shank into the sky made the score 2-5 and sealed his fate. After two hours and 40 minutes, after all the ups and downs, winners and mistakes, prat-falls and arm-flaps, it had somehow gone exactly according to plan.