September 27, 2009

A Long Time Coming

You may know Gael Monfils for his crazy cornrows, his eccentric victory dances, his bulging muscles. But for the most part, you do not know him for the mountains of trophies on his mantle.

True, as a junior, he'd been #1 in the world, capturing the Boys' championships in Melbourne, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But until this week, the funny Frenchman had only won one Tour title, the lightly contested Polish clay court event at Sopot in 2005. He's made more than a couple of finals since then -- Doha the next year, Poertschach in '07 and Vienna last year. Just in February he lost to Nicolas Almagro in Acapulco, where he took less than forty percent of his second serve points.

Regardless, his showing south of the border propelled Monfils to a career-high ranking of #9. He followed that up with a win over Andy Roddick in Paris, but an injured wrist kept him out of Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open he put up a huge fight against Rafael Nadal, even taking the first set, before succumbing in four.

Clearly he's had hisups and downs.

This week, however, he returned to his homeland with something to prove. At the Open de Moselle in Metz, Gael had the top seed. He hadn't played the tournament since his breakout year when he made it all the way to the finals, beating a few familiar names and a couple highly-ranked players in Richard Gasquet and Dominik Hrbaty before eventually losing to Ivan Ljubicic.

In 2009 Monfils had little trouble making the championship match again -- he defeated vet Sebastien Grosjean in just over an hour, serving ten aces and winning almost eighty percent of his first serves. He benefited from his opponent's retirement in the third round and was on point in a rematch against Gasquet in the semis.

Today Gael faced second seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber, a strong German who's had some success this year, but hasn't yet been able to score a big win. After losing the first set of the tournament to Bjorn Phau, Philipp had a similarly easy time making the finals, defeating Paul-Henri Mathieu to get there.

The first set was nearly perfect -- Monfils didn't drop a single point on his first serve and Kohlschreiber stepped up on all six break points he faced. Ultimately, though, the top seed prevailed in the tiebreak. Philipp regrouped in the second set to tie things up, frustrating Gael a bit -- it can't be easy to have only one title after seven finals.

It wasn't until the sixth game of the deciding set that Monfils finally earned his first break point. He brought up his second serve percentage (which had fallen to a dismal twenty-seven percent in the second set) and kept his cool, eventually taking another break and winning the two-plus hour match.

After a long wait, and many close calls, Monfils finally gets to bring home his second Tour trophy.

Speaking of long waits, Kimiko Date Krumm gave herself an early birthday present by beating second seed Anabel Medina Garrigues in straight sets at the Hansol Korea Open. A day shy of thirty-nine years of age, she became the second oldest woman to win a Tour title -- Billie Jean King was almost eight months older when she took home the Birmingham championship in 1983. And after going twelve years without a trophy, she might just have been the hungriest person in the circuit.

But not anymore!

Congrats to all this week's winners!

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