ATP Monte-Carlo First Round Preview: Gael Monfils - Gilles Muller

One of the intriguing matches of the first round at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters features on day one, as thirteenth-seed Gael Monfils clashes with Gilles Muller in the second match to take place on Court Rainier III.

Monfils In Strong Recent Form

Nishikori saved five match points to defeat Monfils in Miami (Photo: Getty Images/Matthew Stockman)
Nishikori saved five match points to defeat Monfils in Miami (Photo: Getty Images/Matthew Stockman)

Gael Monfils arrives in Monte-Carlo aiming to build upon his two quarterfinal finishes in back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami. The Frenchman was defeated in the last eight in Miami by Kei Nishikori, as he squandered five match points to exit the event in three sets, just after falling to Milos Raonic at Indian Wells in the previous tournament.

The twenty-nine year-old has achieved some impressive results in 2016, with Raonic again being his foe at the quarterfinal stage of the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne. No titles have been earned thus far, despite a final defeat to Martin Klizan in Rotterdam after winning the opening set. Just before the first American hard-court Masters 1000 events of the year, Monfils helped his country defeat Canada in the Davis Cup first round by beating Frank Dancevic in the one singles rubber he was required in.

He reached the semifinals in Monte-Carlo last year, going on to lose in the last four to eventual runner-up Tomas Berdych. Along the way he defeated Grigor Dimitrov, and more impressively Roger Federer, putting in commanding displays on one of his favourable surfaces.

Muller Debuting In Monte-Carlo

Muller is debuting in Monte-Carlo this week (Photo: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill)
Muller is debuting in Monte-Carlo this week (Photo: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill)

Gilles Muller enters the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters for the first time in his career, with clay not known to produce the big-server’s best results. In fact, the thirty-two year-old has never previously won a match on clay at Masters 1000 level, instead consistently choosing the hard courts to suit his powerful game.

The man from Luxembourg has not won back-to-back matches in an event since the Sofia Open, where he progressed all the way to the semifinals, alongside another semifinal exit at Sydney in the opening weeks of the season. More recently, Muller exited at the first hurdle to fellow left-hander Fernando Verdasco in Miami after entering the challenger event at Irving just the week before.

His poor showings on clay is backed up by his record at Roland Garros, which is the only Grand Slam event where Muller hasn’t progressed past the second round in six main draw attempts.

Head-To-Head Record

After defeating Monfils, Muller was defeated by Andy Murray (Photo: Getty Images/Minas Panagiotakis)
After defeating Monfils, Muller was defeated by Andy Murray (Photo: Getty Images/Minas Panagiotakis)

The pair have only met once previously, with Muller edging out Monfils at the Rogers Cup in Toronto just last year. The encounter went all the way to a third set tie-breaker, with Muller holding his nerve to progress to the last-sixteen. He won an impressive ninety percent on his first serve, winning fifty-two percent of the overall points during the match.

One statistic that he will surely have to improve on to win on the slower surface of clay is break points won, as Muller only converted one of his ten break opportunities. He only gave one chance to Monfils, who took full advantage to break in the second set.  

Prediction

Monfils reached the semifinals in Monte-Carlo last year (Photo: Getty Images/Jean-Christophe Magnenet)
Monfils reached the semifinals in Monte-Carlo last year (Photo: Getty Images/Jean-Christophe Magnenet)

Muller won their previous encounter in Toronto, but given the pair’s contrasting record on clay, it’s tough to see Monfils not levelling the head-to-head. Muller’s serve advantage will be reduced on clay, decreasing the amount of free points he’s able to create with a strong left-handed swing, taking away the edge he had in their only ever meeting. His tendency to not play Masters events on clay gives Monfils a further edge, with the Frenchman seemingly keen on recording another run deep into a Masters 1000 event.

Monfils is known to love playing on clay, whilst Muller has never won a Masters 1000 match on the surface.

It’s hard to see that streak ending here.

Prediction: Gael Monfils in Straight Sets

VAVEL Logo