John Isner and Gael Monfils met for the first time 14 years ago, in Washington, D.C. Both talented youngsters possessed two very extreme and very different weapons: Isner had his serve, arguably the most powerful the game has ever seen; Monfils had his unparalleled raw athleticism. Both were on the fast track to the Top 20 and beyond. Isner scored his biggest win to date that evening, defeating the Frenchman in his trademark scoreline, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6.

On Friday, in another edition of an ATP hard-court summer, they will face again. Isner rides an eight-match win streak into their 13th career clash, while Monfils entered his second-round victory over Frances Tiafoe with just a 4-10 record on the season. Isner is an understandable favorite, but something has clicked with Monfils this week—and he owns a 7-5 head-to-head record against the American.


Monfils owns a 7-5 head-to-head record against Isner.

Monfils owns a 7-5 head-to-head record against Isner.

With his trademark speed, ridiculous leaping ability and a penchant for pulling off impossible shots, Monfils is better equipped than most players to solve the Isner riddle. If Monfils can return his serve—a very big if, sometime—Isner will try and rip a forehand to a corner. But that’s not the best strategy against an athlete like Monfils, who clearly enjoys tracking down hard-hit balls as opposed to sustaining a less-exciting, lengthy rally. Monfils has the quickness and racquet speed to use Isner's pace against him.

Monfils' opening-round win over John Millman was a good omen for the Frenchman, as that’s exactly the type of player that troubles him. The more patient Monfils' opponent, the worse for him; he’s 3-7 against Gilles Simon and 0-17 against Novak Djokovic. The best way to beat Monfils is to play consistent, disciplined tennis, and deny him the opportunity for the highlight-reel shot that he so desperately craves.

Take, for example, some of the shots Monfils executed in his 2018 Indian Wells win over Isner:

Who else but Gael is pulling off a shot like this?


Crazy, right? But he wasn't done there:

This continental grip return winner from the back corner of the second biggest tennis stadium in the world wasn't bad either. 

That said, Isner has been on a roll lately, and just beat Andrey Rublev, 7-5, 7-6 (5). The over/under total is set at 24.5 games, which is low for an Isner match. So often, two tiebreaks are required for Isner to push the game total over, so I’ll be taking this line for sure. I typically don’t like betting totals, but these two have played 13 tiebreaks in their 12 matches, so knowing that a 7-6 either way is likely, the over has a great chance of hitting.

The Pick: Over 24.5 games