Many a professional tennis player would prefer to get through the first week a grand slam with a ream of routine, straight-sets victories to conserve energy for the second week of the tournament, but not Gael Monfils.
Monfils came into the third round match coming off the back of a five-setter against the Argentine Diego Schwartzman, where he came back from two sets to one down to defeat the world number 62.
Monfils faced the 21st seed Pablo Cuevas on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Friday, with French fans hoping for a more straightforward win than his last outing. However what would unfold would undoubtedly be the match of the tournament so far.
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A match of countless breaks of serve saw the Frenchman start sluggish, losing the first set 4-6. He then went on to show a greater sense of urgency in the second which went to a tie-break. After what appeared to be a nervous set from the 28-year-old, he went on to dominate the tie break 7-1 and level the score.
Cuevas played a great match, hitting powerful and consistent ground strokes which had Monfils battling for every point. Cuevas won the third set 6-3 and it looked all but over when Cuevas broke the home favourite twice in the fourth set to go 4-1 up.
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Just as the crowd seemed to go silent as they began to accept the match was beyond the French star, Monfils began to play some inspired tennis. He went on a five game winning streak to take the set 6-4 which was met with a thundering roar of support from the French crowd.
The fifth set told the story of the match, a strong start from Cuevas which saw him go a break up, only to be denied by an inspired Monfils in front of a hugely one-sided crowd of supporters who ran out a 6-3 winner of the final set.
"At 4-1 I told myself 'we're going to take it point by point and if I can manage one break back he may start to overthink it," the Frenchman told reporters. “Paris is different; [it] is magic, I don't know how, but I'm here… I think I can show some new emotion, I can show some tennis and I can show some side of me I don't even know. I think the crowd just brings me something, something else, and I think it just showed a bit more today."
The entertaining Frenchman is no stranger to such thrilling five-setters, competing in his sixth five-setter in his last 11 outings in the French Open.
Next up for Monfils is Roger Federer, the 17-times grand slam champion and 2009 Roland Garros winner. Monfils, although holding a 4-8 win-loss record against the Swiss star, won their last two encounters, both of which have been played on clay, although one of them came at last year's Davis Cup final when Federer was nursing a back injury. Despite this Federer has beaten the Frenchman three times at Roland Garros, twice in the quarter-finals and once in the semis.
"I will try to put him out of his comfort zone," said Monfils who will also rely heavily on his home support. "I know Roger is very unhappy when the crowd is not behind him."
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