Gael Monfils produced one of the best performances of his career to defeat Roger Federer in straight sets and bring France level at 1-1 with Switzerland after day one of the 2014 Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final in Lille.
Stan Wawrinka had put the visitors in front with a 61 36 63 62 victory against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening rubber but, in front of a world record crowd for an official tennis match of 27,432 at the Stade Pierre Mauroy, Monfils was inspired as he beat world No. 2 Federer 61 64 63 in one hour and 46 minutes.
Julien Benneateau and Richard Gasquet are scheduled to take on Marco Chiudinelli and Michael Lammer in Saturday’s doubles rubber, although Switzerland captain Severin Luthi may well be tempted to make a change and bring in Wawrinka and Federer for such a pivotal match, with the latter surprisingly optimistic after his recent back issue.
“I’ll definitely make myself available if I feel that I can play proper tennis,” said Federer. “I started to feel better as the match went on. That’s very encouraging, I must say. I would think that I’m going to get better as the weekend goes on. I hope I’ll be fine tonight and tomorrow morning to give maximum possibilities for Severin and back up Stan and the rest of the team.”
After Federer pulled out of the final of the ATP World Tour Finals in London last Sunday, the condition of the 33-year-old’s back had been the subject of much discussion and it appeared to hinder him in the early stages of his match against Monfils as he did not show his usual fluid movement.
In contrast, world No. 19 Monfils made a strong start on serve with a stunning backhand pass earning him break point in the fourth game and Federer netted with a tame backhand. Inspired by the passionate home support, Monfils later claimed the double break for 5-1 and fired down consecutive aces on his way to closing out the first set in 30 minutes.
Federer continued to struggle and dropped serve in the third game of the second set as he failed to move his feet in time to return a deep Monfils forehand. Although the Swiss settled after this, one break was enough for Monfils who went on to claim a two-set lead.
This position was somewhat familiar to Monfils who had also been two sets up against Federer at the US Open in September, although he went on to lose in five sets. There was to be no collapse, however, this time as Monfils went 4-2 ahead and then broke again for the victory with a backhand winner down the line to inflict Federer’s first ever straight-sets defeat in a live rubber.
“That definitely [is] one of the top three matches in my life,” said Monfils. “To be honest, I was very nervous in the beginning. For sure when Jo lost, it’s an extra pressure because we need to get back on the road to win the title.
“Then, I think I like that atmosphere, the big court. The crowd was very good. They helped me a lot, gave me a lot of energy. At the end [it] helped me a lot because I went for my shots, which made me serve big [and hit] big forehands. “
World No. 4 Wawrinka continued the form which took him to the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Finals last week as he raced out of the blocks against Tsonga, claiming the first break in the third game and proceeding to take it to his nervy opponent as he hit winner after winner before going on to take the opening set in 26 minutes.
The tide turned in the second set as world No. 12 Tsonga settled and broke for a 3-1 lead with Wawrinka hitting a double fault. The French revival helped to raise the noise level from the home crowd and Tsonga responded by going on to level the match at one set all as he fired a 126mph serve down the middle.
The tension was apparent during a tight third set in which both players held serve until Wawrinka finally made the breakthrough in the sixth game as he increased the power of his groundstrokes and it paid off as Tsonga struggled under pressure and dropped serve before Wawrinka served out the set to take a two-sets-to-one lead.
Any hopes of a French comeback were dealt an instant blow at the start of the fourth set as Wawrinka claimed the immediate break and he took five of the next seven games, sealing victory with a volley which hit the tape and rolled over to earn Switzerland the first point of the tie in two hours and 24 minutes.
“I was feeling good since Thursday night,” said Wawrinka. “You know that you have a lot of pressure when you [play] a Davis Cup final. You know with everything that happened this week with Roger’s back, there is more pressure on me because we can see it’s tough for him so far.
“But I just have a good team around me. I know how to play those matches. I did so many big matches, so many important matches this year. Today it’s important to show them that I’m there. They maybe [were] too focused [on] Roger and maybe they forgot about me.”
THE MYBOYSAY DAVIS CUP TENNIS PLAYERS ENTHUSIASTS WOULD LIKE TO CONGRATULATE GAEL MONFILS ON HIS GREAT VICTORY OVER THE CHAMP, ROGER FEDERER, AND THE MYBOYSAY NATION OF TENNIS ENTHUSIASTS LOOK FOR A GREAT FINALE AGAINST THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE FRENCH TEAMS VS THE SWISS TEAMS.