Monfils Saves 4 MP For Thrilling Comeback In Montreal
Gael Monfils produced a mesmerising moment of magic in storming back to upset Kei Nishikori at the Coupe Rogers on Wednesday. Monfils saved four match points - including two with clutch, spectacular hot shots - in a deciding set tie-break, rallying for a stunning 6-7(4), 7-5, 7-6(6) victory.
It marked the first time Monfils had come from a set down against a Top 10 opponent in seven years and just the third time in his career (3-62). A semi-finalist last year in Toronto, he improved to 13-7 overall at the Canadian ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event.Monfils was a hot shot machine with his back against the wall on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, energising the Montreal faithful with forehand and backhand winners from the most improbable of angles. Earlier in the third set he produced back-to-back hot shots to break back when Nishikori served for the match.
But the Frenchman trumped that effort trailing 3/6 in the tie-break when, after a lung-busting rally, he nailed a down-the-line backhand that kissed the sideline and drew a standing ovation from raucous fans. Moments later Monfils muscled a down-the-line forehand winner from deep behind the baseline to stave off his fourth consecutive match point. (Watch below.)
"It's a good victory for many reasons," said Monfils. "It's a big revenge, because last year around this time I had the same thing actually against Kei. I was up 6/2 in the tie-break in the Olympics in the quarter-finals and I lost the tie-break. So I know exactly what he feels.
"Actually last year, as well, a bit before, I played him in Miami. I also had five match points and I lost it 7-6 in the third. I'm more than happy because I fought through the toughness, because it was tough for me. It was a bit like a rollercoaster. I was a break down in each set."
The pair split the first two sets and with Nishikori serving at 5-3 30/30 in the decider, Monfils laced consecutive pulsating winners to earn a dramatic break back. After being stretched side to side by an attacking Nishikori, Monfils looped an inch-perfect lob over his head for a winner. He then clocked a clean forehand winner down the line to secure the break.
In the deciding tie-break, Nishikori looked to be in command once again, extending his lead to 5/2 with a drop shot winner. He held four straight match points at 6/2, but Monfils would not be denied his moment in the spotlight. A backhand winner saved the second and a forehand winner turned aside the fourth. In front of an electric atmosphere on Banque Nationale Court, Monfils converted the first match point of his own with a forehand winner down the line.
In total, Nishikori won more points (116-108), but it was the Frenchman who was clutch in the big moments. He fired 28 winners, including 19 on his forehand wing to prevail after two hours and 41 minutes. He will next face 12th-seed Roberto Bautista Agut in Thursday's third round. Bautista Agut dismissed Ryan Harrison 7-5, 6-2 earlier on Wednesday.
"I needed courage and a lot of luck," Monfils added. "Matches like this depend on luck also. As I said, in the second set, he started off better than I did. It took time for me to get into it after the first set. I was able to play at a higher level at 5-2. The same thing happened in the third set. Now, for the last points, I needed to be brave and also have some luck - a lot of luck."
The victory was Monfils' first in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Nishikori, improving to 1-3. It was the third straight meeting decided in a third-set tie-break, with the Japanese most recently prevailing at both the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami and the Rio Olympics last year. Nishikori owns the best career record in deciding sets according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, boasting a 112-35 win-loss record.
Monfils' win also extends the theme of players saving four match points this week in Montreal. #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov did so in defeating Rogerio Dutra Silva on Tuesday, as well as Diego Schwartzman in stunning third seed Dominic Thiem in the night session.
In other action, seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov set a third-round encounter with Robin Haase after securing a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over Mischa Zverev. The Bulgarian, who reached the semi-finals in Toronto in 2014 and quarter-finals there last year, needed one hour and 39 minutes to oust his German opponent. He will face Haase for the third time, having won both their meetings in 2014 - in Indian Wells and Brisbane. The Dutchman earned his place in the third round with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Ernesto Escobedo.