NEW YORK—It is futile to try and describe a typical Gael Monfils point. You will run out of adjectives, verbs, and space, and even efforts worthy of Wordsworth will be unsatisfying. The Frenchman’s modern art is best enjoyed visually, like an exhibit at the nearby MoMA.
With that in mind, the first point of Monfils’ third-round match against Richard Gasquet left me worried, from a reporting point of view. It lasted 20 shots and covered every inch of both baselines—and many feet behind them. It had the air of a point played during an exhibition match, but it was de rigueur for these exceptional French talents. It appeared to foreshadow a long night in Louis Armstrong Stadium, one longer than expected after today’s earlier rain delay.
When Monfils broke Gasquet in the first game with a forehand winner, and was then immediately broken because of a forehand error, it seemed the first of an innumerable amount of twists and turns. But the opposite happened. Monfils, known for his bursts of emotion and penchant to entertain, kept himself in check and clamped down on Gasquet with a business-like performance. Monfils is seeded 20th, eight spots lower than Gasquet, but you wouldn’t have known it from his 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 tour de force.
From the third game on, Monfils proved to be the more patient, opportunistic, and ultimately better player. He struck 50 winners on the day, but this wasn’t a match where he was forced to play aggressively. Monfils wore down Gasquet with his court coverage and consistent shotmaking—he made just 21 unforced errors. Gasquet’s backhand is the more celebrated of the two, but Monfils’ two-hander was much more effective this evening.
By the third set, Gasquet seemed ready to resign and hit the shower, and he needed one: His clothes glistened with sweat at humid Flushing Meadows; they looked like they'd have to be peeled off. He even had to change his Le Coq Sportif cap for a “US Open” tournament-issue hat. A fashion faux pas, yes, but that was the least of his problems tonight.
Unable to hit through Monfils, Gasquet needed a strong service night, but he was broken twice in each set and punished on second-serve points. While the protracted opening point turned out to be a red herring, Monfils’ break of serve at 4-4 in the first set proved to be more portentous. Gasquet awkwardly approached the next and struck a feeble backhand, and was unable to handle Monfils’ powerful reply at net. Monfils, for his part, held with ease, as he did most of the contest; Gasquet earned just a single break point.
Two sets later, Monfils had Gasquet on a string. He dictated the terms so much that, on one point, after hitting a series of deep, cross-court forehands, Monfils decided to change up the rally. Not by cracking a forehand down the line, or by slicing a shot instead of imparting spin. But by faking out Gasquet with a grunt.
Each time Monfils had hit a forehand in this rally, he bellowed a grunt of equal intensity. So Monfils let out the grunt to signal another forehand—but instead of following through with his usual, elongated take-back, he calmly stopped his delivery and cooly struck a winning drop shot. Gasquet didn’t move; the fans didn’t stop cheering.
Trust me, it was a great shot if you could have seen it.