Gael Monfils has still got it. A day after knocking out No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets on Centre Court, the charismatic Frenchman put on another show for the Canadian fans on the Grandstand, defeating Australian lucky loser Aleksander Vukic 6-4, 6-4 to advance to his fifth quarter-final at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.
Monfils, who began his week with a thrilling three-set victory over recent Wimbledon quarter-finalist Christopher Eubanks, was in control from the start, holding his serve relatively comfortably without facing a single break point in the opening set and keeping the pressure on Vukic in each of his return games.
After failing to convert his first four break points, the veteran made no mistake on the fifth and broke in the seventh game to take a decisive lead. (But it’s worth noting that Vukic hit one of the most miraculous shots en route to saving a break point earlier in the game.)
Monfils upped the ante in the early stages of the second set, breaking in the fourth game and continuing to cruise through his service games with some clinical serving and steady groundstrokes. But it wasn’t until Monfils was serving for the match at 5-4 that the Frenchman began to feel the pressure himself, spraying a few forehands to give the Australian his first break points of the match. On the first break point, Monfils and Vukic went toe-to-toe in a lung-busting, 23-shot rally before Vukic netted a forehand.
“To be honest, it’s a little bit of luck, because this rally could be either way,” Monfils told me about that crucial point in the final game after the match. “Before this, I tried to be very focused on my service game, tried to have a very quick one and put pressure when I could. It was not easy to play, and I was super happy, to be honest, to be able to win in straight sets.”
At 36, Monfils, one of the most inventive and entertaining players of his generation who has been plagued by numerous injuries over the years, is certainly in the twilight of his playing career. But despite his most recent injury lay-off after the French Open and the changes in his personal life — he welcomed his first child with wife and fellow player Elina Svitolina last year — the former World No. 6 remains determined to compete for as long as he can on the ATP Tour.
“I try to take [it] week after week because it’s never easy for me to stay in shape week after week, and now it’s been a couple of weeks that I’m not too bad, so I’m quite happy and always cross fingers that I keep going because I love this U.S. swing,” said Monfils, who reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2016. “I really hope I don’t get hurt. I just love the sport. That’s why I’m waking up every morning. I don’t mind to get hurt, and I try to give everything I have. I know [my playing career will end in] a few weeks, few months, few years maybe, but I just try to enjoy it.”
Monfils, who first played this event in 2008 and has reached the semifinal once in both Toronto (2016) and Montreal (2019), will look to equal his best result when he takes on No. 7 seed Jannik Sinner, who advanced after three-time champion Andy Murray was forced to pull out due to an abdominal strain. Sinner has won three of his past four meetings with Monfils, with the Italian’s most memorable win coming in five sets at the 2019 U.S. Open.
“It’ll be a great match — a night match,” Monfils said with a knowing smile. “I’m looking forward, and I really hope to get 100 per cent because I really want to enjoy and play a tough match tomorrow.”