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03 Jun 2008 09:02
Gael Monfils has found himself with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders after he blasted his way into the quarterfinals of the French Open on Monday with a four-set win over Ivan Ljubicic.
No Frenchman has won at Roland Garros since Yannick Noah’s emotional triumph in 1983 and you have to go back to 1946 and Marcel Bernard to find another home hero in the post-World War II era.
The closest since then was the flamboyant Henri Leconte, who went down in straight sets to Mats Wilander in 1988, and ever since there has been little to cheer about for French tennis fans apart from a semifinal appearance by Sebastian Grosjean in 2001.
The 21-year-old Monfils is an unlikely flag-bearer for the French this year.
A former world junior champion, he has found the transition to the seniors difficult both physically and mentally and only a few weeks ago he was playing on the secondary challenger circuit in a bid to revive his career.
Coming into Roland Garros, all talk on the home front focused on national number one Richard Gasquet and this year’s surprise Australian Open finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but neither of them made the starting line due to injury.
That left the back-up squad in charge and five of them made it through to the last 16. The first four in action all fell at that hurdle and it was left to Monfils to save the day, which he duly did.
A gangly and beanpole junior player, the Parisian has notably muscled up over the last few months and now sports biceps to rival clay-court king Nadal.
He says that is due to a new-found dedication to the game, “It’s due to all the work I’ve been doing with my team.
“I was more serious about many things, and I think all that helped me, and this is why now physically I’m in better shape.”
Next up for Monfils is gritty Spanish claycourter David Ferrer, a player whose relentless energy and never-say-die attitude is second only to compatriot and triple champion Nadal.
Ferrer won over five sets for the second straight game, defeating the wily Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, and he is in no doubt that he will need to beat the home fans as much as Monfils on Wednesday.
“This is normal,” he said. “The crowd will support Monfils because he’s French. I think as players we just forget about this kind of thing. We just play each point one by one, and when we are into the match we can’t hear anything.”—Sapa-AFP
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