Leading up to this match, many labeled this as Monfils' best chance to finally notch a win over Djokovic. The Frenchman came to the event high on confidence after capturing the Doha title over Andrey Rublev in convincing fashion while Djokovic withdrew from both Abu Dhabi and Doha before making his season debut at the Kooyong Classic exhibition.
Djokovic came back from a set down, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, to defeat the Frenchman as Monfils looked exhausted after the second set as he was battling heat sickness. The Serb will now face Albert Ramos-Vinolas for a spot in the second week.
Monfils Takes Wild Opener
The first game of the match already saw warning signs from Djokovic that this would not be easy. A double-fault put him down 0-30 and then back-to-back unforced errors gave Monfils the early break. The Doha champion consolidated his break for a 2-0 lead after a couple more loose points from the former world number one.
Djokovic's second serve was already becoming a huge problem. A couple of double faults saw his 30-0 lead go to 30-30 and then two more unforced errors gave the Frenchman a double break lead. A stroke of luck gave Djokovic break back point after a net cord winner. A double-fault from Monfils gave one of the two breaks back.
The former world number one was able to hold at love to keep himself within reaching distance of Monfils at 2-3 down. The Serb broke once again for three-all after a couple of unforced errors off of the Frenchman's racquet.
The wild ride in the first set continued as a huge forehand return from Monfils put him up 15-30. A double-fault and an errant shot later, Monfils found himself in the lead once again at 4-3. Monfils faced two break points in his service game but found a way through to 5-3 after a backhand winner and a well-placed second serve up the tee.
Serving for the set, Monfils faced a couple of break points, but some smart, tactical tennis helped the Frenchman save them. He would take the opener, 6-4, after a forehand volley winner.
Djokovic Edges Out Monfils
It was a much better start for Djokovic in the second set, holding at 30 to open up the proceedings. The service games at the beginning of this set were much more comfortable than the first as each man held with ease in their first two service games of the set.
Djokovic was pushed to deuce in his third service game of the set but still did not face a break point en route to a 3-2 lead. A double-fault from Monfils set up two break points for Djokovic. A gutsy second serve down the tee and an errant forehand from the Serb brought it back to deuce. Monfils saved one more break point before holding for 3-3.
During the changeover, Monfils was talking to the chair umpire about potentially closing the roof due to the brutal conditions out on court. The temperature out in Melbourne was 105 degrees but on court, it was much hotter, in and around the 130-degree mark. Monfils was broken after an erratic service game as Djokovic closed out the second set 6-3 in his next service game.
The trainer and the doctor came out to check on Monfils after the set ended. After a short talk with them, he went back inside the locker room.
Djokovic Cruises To Win In Four
To start the third set, it was quite worrying for Monfils who served a number of slow first serves. He still held in the end, but it the heat was wearing him down as he was broken at love in his second service game.
The movement of the Frenchman was clearly hindered by the heat, trying to limit his movement as much as he could. A net cord winner gave Djokovic the second break in the set as the Frenchman looked more and more likely to focus on trying to win the fourth. A couple of wild points gave the Serb a third break to take the set 6-1.
A 19-shot rally in Monfils' second service game brought it to two-all as he hoped to try and force a decisive fifth set in these brutal conditions. Monfils had looked to break in the ensuing service game but the will of Djokovic allowed him to save a handful of break points to put him up 3-2.
The six-time champion in Australia eventually broke Monfils after an errant backhand from the Frenchman. Serving for the set, Djokovic was made to work. He went through a few deuces as well as seeing Monfils stave off some match points before ending it with a forehand volley winner.