Monfils Magic! French Star Surges Past Baez In Roland Garros Epic
Gael Monfils produced a moment of magic in the early moments of Wednesday morning that fans will not soon forget.
"It's definitely in like [my] top two [matches]. I had the same one almost kind of some years ago against [Pablo] Cuevas on [Court Suzanne] Lenglen. It was unbelievable atmosphere as well. Of course this one is another flavor. I'm older, and even less chances, let's say, to win this match today," Monfils said. "It was [a] great atmosphere tonight, I guess for some spectators as well. I know I have some friends for the first time they came to Roland Garros, so I think it was a good experience for them."
The former World No. 6 scrambled throughout to deal with Baez and his aggressive forehand, then battled his body deep into the fifth set, in which he struggled to walk in between points due to cramps. But the Court Philippe-Chatrier crowd propped up the 36-year-old with unrelenting support and urged him to victory after three hours and 47 minutes.
The scene after Monfils clinched the match with a backhand passing shot up the line — which bounced off the top of the net and in — is one those watching will retain for years to come. Initially he pulled his shirt over his face in disbelief, then revealed a massive smile.
After shaking hands with Baez and the chair umpire, he returned to the court and held his arms out to embrace the thousands of fans who had pushed him to fight on for the previous four hours. The Frenchman, who has long prided himself on performing for the fans, then laid down on his back and began sobbing.
"You forget it's the first round, you'll say, 'Oh, wow, that was amazing, crazy this evening,'" Monfils said. "Then I didn't even know where I was. And I thought, I succeeded, I won this match."
Monfils faced 20 break points in the match and appeared out of gas late in the fourth set and early in the fifth. His Argentine opponent was pummeling forehand after forehand, running the home favourite all around the tournament's centre court.
But somehow, some way, Monfils found the energy to make another push. Having lost all four of his previous tour-level matches this year as he returned from a right foot injury, the 36-year-old defended beautifully and won critical points to stay within touch.
Once it became a battle of wills, Monfils simply refused to capitulate, no matter what his body told him to do. The Frenchman will next play sixth seed Holger Rune, who defeated Christopher Eubanks on Tuesday.
"I was cramping at the end, a lot of [it was] with the nerves, and of course I'm tired, but a big part of [it was] the nerves," Monfils said. "I'm playing full [of] adrenaline, like honestly, I asked the crowd to scream, and somehow I juiced up. I know at one hand I will pay, I will pay, and I had to hold it at the end. But I hope to have a good night today and tomorrow and [focus on] heavy recovery, and no matter what, I will be ready for him Thursday."