Gael Monfils earned a place in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the first time in his career on Monday by defeating Andrey Kuznetsov 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the round of sixteen. The match was a tight server's battle, with the flamboyant Frenchman taking advantage of a couple of openings on the return to scrape through in two and a half hours.
Late Break Lifts Monfils
Gael Monfils came out of the gate quickly, breaking Kuznetsov in the third game for the early lead. However, the Russian wasted no time returning the favor, breaking Monfils right back for 2-2. After that wild start, things settled down and both men began holding comfortably until 4-4, when Monfils tried to make a move.
Monfils reached break point three times in that game. But Kuznetsov was up to the challenge, saving the first with a service winner and forcing Monfils into errors on the other two. Monfils did not go away quietly. After holding to love for 5-5, Monfils quickly raced to a 0-40 lead, but only required one break point to grab the late lead. The Frenchman served out the set with ease in the following game.
Kuznetsov Capitalizes On Monfils' Errors
There was very little to decide between the two men in the first set and there was even less in the second set. Both men were strong of serve, holding with ease for the majority of the set. There was only one break point in the entire set, and it was not even decided with a rally. Serving at 3-4, Monfils found himself down two break points after Kuznetsov fired a forehand winner following a double fault from the Frenchman.
Facing pressure against his serve for the first time in the set, Monfils cracked, throwing in a second double fault of the game to hand Kuznetsov the break and the 5-3 lead. After trailing 0-30 while serving for the set, the Russian won four unanswered points to even the match at one set apiece.
Monfils Regains Upper Hand
Both men came out firing on serve in the third set, holding fairly easily. Seemingly out of nowhere, Kuznetsov’s serve suffered a brief lapse, enough for Monfils to break for a 4-2 lead. The Russian hit a pair of unforced errors and a double fault to let the Frenchman break. The one break was all Monfils would need, as he would hold easily in his next two games, wrapping up the set in only twenty-eight minutes to grab a two-sets-to-one lead.
Monfils Squeezes Out Tight Service Battle
The strong serving continued for both men in the fourth set. Neither one managed to get anything going on their return and there were no break points in the fourth set. Monfils put pressure on in the third game, forcing Kuznetsov to deuce. But that was the closest either man would come to breaking. The set was decided by a tiebreak. Monfils came out firing and raced to a 4-0 lead. That would prove to be too big a mountain for Kuznetsov to climb. He came close to fighting back, reclaiming both mini-breaks and served to tie the breaker, but Monfils reclaimed the mini-break again for the 5-3 lead. After the Russian closed to within one, Monfils served out the tiebreak and the match.
By the Numbers
Both men’s numbers were similar in the match, although Monfils massively out-aced Kuznetsov 14-0. Kuznetsov hit forty-six winners to Monfils’ forty-four. However, he also had fifty-two unforced errors to Monfils’ thirty-two. The Russian was a perfect two-for-two on break point conversions, while the Frenchman converted three of seven. Monfils only lost one of sixteen points at the net in the match.
Monfils is through to the quarterfinals of a grand slam for the first time since the 2014 US Open. It will be his first quarterfinal at the Australian Open. He awaits the winner of Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic.