Gael Monfils is well-known for his flair and entertainment, from leaping into rocket-like groundstrokes to hustling around the court to play jaw-dropping defence. This time, Monfils is quietly through to the second week of the Australian Open.
The World No. 10 defeated 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis in a cat-and-mouse match 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-3. Although it was by no means a one-sided affair, the Frenchman was never in trouble in his two-hour, 27-minute victory.
“I’m very happy the way I played today,” Monfils said on court after his triumph. “It was a great atmosphere again today, so thank you so much. I feel great. Always we say the second week [of a Grand Slam] is special, so I hope this one will be special for me.”
Monfils will now have a chance to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the second time when he faces No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem or No. 29 seed Taylor Fritz. He will try to reach two consecutive major quarter-finals for the first time, having made the last eight at Flushing Meadows last September.
The pressure was on the 10th seed against World No. 256 Gulbis, who was trying to become the lowest-ranked man to reach the Round of 16 in the history of the Australian Open. But for the most part, Monfils went about his business with few hiccups, playing within his comfort zone and out-pointing Gulbis in the shotmaking department. The eight-time ATP Tour titlist made only 22 unforced errors and broke serve five times.
Both men were content to start rallies slowly, trading calm groundstrokes like pawns on a chessboard, baiting one another to make the first bold move so they could then take advantage with strong counter-punching. Although Gulbis showed improvements in his forehand from the technique that has drawn plenty of attention in recent years and struck his crisp two-handed backhand well, he was unable to take advantage of Monfils’ lack of aggression.
The Latvian, who eliminated #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the first round, came to net more often than Monfils — winning 15 of 23 approaches — but he also made more unforced errors, which led to his demise. Gulbis struck 33 winners to 52 unforced errors in his loss.
The qualifier competed well in the third set, but those errors caught up to him. At 3-3, Gulbis swooped into net to save one break point. But during the next rally, he decelerated on a forehand, launching it long to give the Frenchman the advantage and allow him to close out the match.
Monfils has now won eight straight matches against qualifiers at Grand Slams, and is 18-2 against them overall. He is 4-0 in his ATP Head2Head series against Gulbis.