Gael Monfils survived an injury scare, then finished strongly to down fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-4 and book a spot in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2016 quarter-finals on Thursday. Monfils earned only his second victory in eight FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings with Simon, and snapped a four-match losing streak against his good friend.
“In the second set, Gilles started to run a lot better. He played really great for four games or so and I knew I needed to be patient for his level to come back down a bit,” Monfils said. “At the same time, I still needed to be the aggressor. I’ve made improvements mentally, physically and technically this year, and that helped me today against Gilles.”
The No. 2 seed started the match strongly, holding with ease and punishing Simon’s second serves to take a one-set lead. However, Monfils soon felt the brunt of the hot and humid conditions as well as Simon’s tireless retrieving. Down 4-1 in the second set, Monfils’ day took another turn for the worst when he twisted an ankle while following a serve to the net. Monfils hobbled to the sideline and was examined by a tournament physiotherapist before continuing.
“I wanted to see whether I needed to get my ankle taped, but finally there was no need,” Monfils said. “When you’re warm, you can sometimes play on it so I didn’t ask the physio to come back.”
The injury scare, far from hurting Monfils’ cause, actually provided a jolt of adrenaline to his play. Monfils hit an ace to hold for 4-2, then returned to the aggressive brand of baseline tennis which won him the first set. His three and four-shot combinations proved effective in breaking down Simon’s defences and allowed him to sweep the final five games of the match.
Monfils will take on big-serving Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals. The towering Croatian took out Janko Tipsarevic 7-6(9), 7-6(5), hitting 24 aces in the process. It was Karlovic’s fifth consecutive tie-break set in Tokyo. He got past Federico Delbonis in a deciding-set tie-break in the first round. Monfils leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 3-2 and has not lost to the Croatian since 2009.
“The plan wasn’t to stay back and to hit ground strokes against Janko, but he forced me to do that quite a bit today,” Karlovic said. “Fortunately I was able to win some points that way at critical moments.
“Monfils has been playing much better this year. He made some changes to his service motion, bringing up his right leg, which have helped him. He’s a Top 10 player now and can only go up from here.”
Gilles Muller used his all-court game to good effect in beating Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-4. The left-hander fired 11 aces and saved the lone break point faced and advance to the quarter-finals in 70 minutes. He will next face #NextGen star Nick Kyrgios, who received a pass into the final eight after Radek Stepanek withdrew due to a back injury.
Cabal/Farah Knock Out Top Doubles Seeds
Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah rallied to defeat No. 1 seeds Jaimie Murray and Bruno Soares 1-6, 7-6(5), 10/8 to move into the semi-finals.
“[On big points] we were very much in the moment,” said Cabal, whose side won both deciding points played in the second set to even the contest.
“We slowly got into the rhythm of the match,” Farah said. “We were not playing well at all in the first set. We came back from 0/40 down at 3-3 in the second set, and that gave us a little boost to get into the match and end up winning it.”