Monfils Beats Wawrinka In Rotterdam For Eighth ATP Tour Crown
Frenchman plays with great focus to overcome mid-match letdown
Gael Monfils battled hard to lift his first ATP Tour trophy for 13 months on Sunday at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The Frenchman went one better than his 2016 final run (l. to Klizan) by beating Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 in one hour and 44 minutes in front of a capacity 15,000-strong crowd at the Rotterdam Ahoy.
“We have been practising all winter together, and really for the past 14 years too," said Monfils. "In these matches, it’s tricky to surprise the other. I was a bit tougher than him in the third set and changed the rhythm, as I felt he was playing heavy in the second set and I felt like I couldn’t handle it. I had to break his momentum. I had to be more aggressive and sneak in some serve and volley tennis.
“In the second set, I felt like I was pushing back physically and not striking cleanly. I was stressed and angry, but I had to think about it and in the third game of the decider, I took my chance and gained energy.”
The 32-year-old, who beat Andrey Rublev in the Qatar ExxonMobil Open final in January 2018 and is now 8-21 lifetime in ATP Tour finals, earned 500 ATP Rankings points and €405,030 in prize money. It was the first Rotterdam championship match between two unseeded players since 2008, when Michael Llodra defeated Robin Soderling.
Monfils competed with great focus in the first set, hanging tough in long rallies and reaping dividends at the net. Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, struggled to punch holes in the Frenchman’s armoury and handed Monfils the first break at 1-1 with a forehand error. Monfils twice came within one point of a 4-1 lead, but needed to bide his time for a second service break. Monfils got the better of Wawrinka in the physical battle, sealing the 36-minute set when Wawrinka struck a low backhand volley into the net.
Wawrinka turned up the heat in the second set, working hard to convert his fifth break point opportunity of the first game with a smash winner. The Swiss wild card’s winner count continued to increase and at 4-0, Monfils exhibited the first signs of exhaustion. With his service speed declining, Monfils’ movement was impaired and he struck a forehand long to hand the second set to Wawrinka.
By the third game of the decider, Monfils was firing on all cylinders once more and broke Wawrinka’s serve. At 4-2, Monfils was fighting under extreme pressure, but regularly forced Wawrinka to play an extra shot and earned the decisive break. At the end of a highly entertaining final, Monfils was delighted to be able to follow in the footsteps of one of his idols, Arthur Ashe, the 1975 and 1976 Rotterdam champion.
The 33-year-old Wawrinka, who was appearing in his first tour-level final since June 2017 at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal), is now 16-13 in finals. He captured his 16th tour-level trophy on 27 May 2017 at the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open, four months before undergoing left knee surgery. Wawrinka earns 300 ATP Rankings points and €203,420 in prize money with his runner-up finish in Rotterdam.
“We know each other really well, as we’ve practised a lot in the off-season and before [the recent tournament in] Sofia,” said Wawrinka. “It was a tough final and Gael played really well. He did what he had to do at the right moments. I was struggling with my footwork at times to be more aggressive on my groundstrokes. That’s what made the difference.
“It’s great to have been back in the final, but also how I played to get there. I played a good match and good level today, but it’s great to see the level is there across a full week. I have to keep doing what I’ve been doing over the past few months: working hard off the court, playing matches and building my confidence.”