France's 10th seed Gael Monfils had a consistent start to the 2016 season which saw him reach the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. The Frenchman's new serious attitude coincided with quarterfinal runs at Indian Wells last year and Miami. Monfils reached the final of the Monte Carlo Masters losing to Rafael Nadal in three sets. Unfortunately, Monfils fell ill and was forced to miss the French Open which was devastating for him. However, the former world number six had a successful North American hard court run in the summer. Monfils won his first ATP 500 level title in Washington last year, and he reached the semifinals of the Rogers Cup losing to Novak Djokovic. The Frenchman also reached his first Grand Slam semifinal in eight years at Flushing Meadows losing to Djokovic in four sets. Unfortunately, injured hampered Monfils' progress at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Monfils hasn't exactly set 2017 by storm but he did reach the fourth round of the Australian Open losing to former champion Rafael Nadal in a four-set battle. It was a tough pill for Monfils to swallow as he was a break up in the fourth set, and the momentum was with him and he could have gone on to win that match. Furthermore, the French number two reached back-to-back quarterfinals in Marseille and Dubai losing to compatriot Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco respectively.
On the other side of the net to Monfils is good friend John Isner. The 20th seeded American has struggled over the past 12 months which has seen him fall out of the top 20. Isner also surrendered his status as American number one to both Steve Johnson and Jack Sock. On the other hand, Isner managed to finish inside the top 20 for the seventh consecutive year. Furthermore, Isner performed well at the Grand Slams last year, losing to David Ferrer and Andy Murray respectively in the fourth round of the Australian Open and French Open. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga got the better of him in a five-set thriller at Wimbledon, and Kyle Edmund upset him at the US Open both in the third round. It was the first time in the big-serving American's career that he reached the third round or better at all four Slams in a Calendar year.
Isner failed to win a title last year although he reached the final in Atlanta losing to Nick Kyrgios and to Andy Murray at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. The 31-year-old hasn't had the best of starts to 2017 as he lost in the second round of the Australian Open to eventual quarterfinalist Mischa Zverev, surrendering two sets to love lead. The American lost to compatriots Steve Johnson and Donald Young in the quarterfinals of Auckland and Memphis respectively.
How they got here
Both players received a bye into the second round as being seeded in the top 32. Once again, Monfils had a slow start to the match against the Barbados native qualifier Darian King, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 to reach the third round again. Isner's progress through to the third round involved two tiebreakers. The American dispatched Mikhail Kukushkin, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (6) to advance to the third round for the fourth year in succession.
The two seeded players have competed against each other eight times and their head-to-head is evenly poised at four wins apiece. All of their encounters have taken place on hard courts. Only one of their matches have finished in straight sets and it was in their most recent encounter. Isner defeated Monfils in three sets in the semifinals of Washington in 2007, however, the two-time Grand Slam semifinalist recovered from a set down to defeat the American in the first round of the Miami Open a year later. The 2012 finalist would take a 3-1 lead in their head-to-head by defeating Monfils in their second round meeting at Indian Wells in 2009 and in the third round of the Australian Open in 2010 which required four sets.
However, the 10th seed would win their next two competitive meetings to level up the rivalry at 3-3 in the quarterfinals of Montpellier in 2010 and in the semifinals of Washington in 2011. Isner would once again regain the lead in the rivalry by defeating Monfils in the second round of the US Open in 2013 in four sets but the Frenchman would gain his revenge a year later indoors in Paris in straight sets.
Only one of their meetings has not required a tiebreaker, therefore, it proves how serve-dominated their encounters are. Monfils is defending quarterfinalist points from last year, and he can re-enter the top 10 depending on other results. However, the Frenchman cannot afford to have another slow start against Isner but the 2012 finalist has a good record here in Indian Wells. Furthermore, the American will have some confidence in him, knowing that he is more than capable of beating Monfils.
This section of the draw is still filled with quality players with third seed Stan Wawrinka, 13th seed Tomas Berdych and last year's semifinalist David Goffin lurking in this section. All players in the top section will fancy their chances of having a good run with top seed Andy Murray's early departure. The keys for Isner to win this match is to serve well against Monfils and dictate play from the baseline. The 20th seed will want to finish off points quickly as Monfils is the better mover of the two players, and excels in long baseline rallies. Moreover, the Frenchman will need to remain calm and composed if he is going to defeat Isner. It is a match that he should win, and continue to boost his confidence for a mediocre start to the year. The France native is also the better returner of the two players and will be looking to break Isner's serve, when the chance is presented to him.
This is the final match scheduled on Day 8 of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and the winner of this match will face Australian Open quarterfinalist, the 29th seed Misha Zverev or eighth seed Dominic Thiem. It is a nice section of the draw and both players will like their chances of reaching the quarterfinals at least with Wawrinka or Berdych likely to be waiting there.
Prediction: Monfils in three sets