Dazzling Monfils Reaches First Australian Final At Adelaide International

Gaël Monfils (photo: David Mariuz/Tennis Australia)

ADELAIDE/WASHINGTON, January 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Gaël Monfils reached the 24th ATP Tour final of his career at the Adelaide International 1 on Saturday evening. His 80-minute, 7-5, 6-0 win over Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis put him into his first career final in Australia.

From 5-all in the first set, the 21st-ranked Monfils won eight straight games to put away the semifinal match over the 171st-ranked wild card Kokkinakis. The oft-injured, 25-year-old Adelaide native was appearing in his first ATP Tour semifinal in four-and-a-half years.

“Obviously, I play tennis for those kind of atmosphere tonight, stadium packed,” Monfils said during his post-match press conference. “It’s for that you practice for and you desire to play for. It’s this adrenaline that I was missing a lot.

“Hopefully, tomorrow I can have another good match.”

Monfils gave props to Kokkinakis after the match, saying he thought the young Australian has been very unlucky with his body but whose tennis “is definitely on the top of the game.

“Especially, in Australia, he’s always a tough opponent,” Monfils said.

“Honestly, I really hope he will recover well because I felt he was playing well last night, very intense. Today was tough. I think he had fuel for one set, then it was a little bit tougher physically for him.

“I have no doubt that for the [Australian Open] he will be ready, even next week play good tennis. Even if he wants to rest a little bit, I think he’s going to be a tough opponent for anyone.”

The 35-year-old Monfils, who hit seven aces and dropped just five points on his first serve, will face No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia in Sunday’s final of the ATP 250 outdoor hard-court event.

The 29th-ranked Khachanov reached his first ATP Tour singles final since November 2018 at the Rolex Paris Masters after defeating No. 30 Marin Cilic of Croatia, seeded third, 7-6 (3), 6-3 in an hour and 54 minutes. Khachanov’s win broke a two-match losing streak against Cilic, who beat the Russian en route to the St. Petersburg Open title last year.

“It was [a] very tight, mental match,” the 25-year-old, Olympic silver medalist Khachanov said. “I know the way he plays. He tries to play really fast; he has a big serve. Doesn’t give you rhythm. He attacks your serve, gets free points on his serve. It was really a question after a few points difference.

“I’m happy that I could pull it off in the tie-break first set, I think it was very important. That gave me, I think, a little confidence in the second set. … I just waited for my chances in the second set and closed it out with my serve and just one break.”

“I’m really happy to start the year with a final already,” Khachanov said.

Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil upset third seeds Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 10-2 to advance to the Adelaide International 1 doubles final. They will play Rohan Bopanna and Ramkumar Ramanathan, both of India, who defeated No. 4 seeds Tomislav Brkic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal starts season off with a final

After a five-month sabbatical from the ATP Tour while nursing a foot injury, World No. 6 Rafael Nadal is one win away from earning his 89th tour-level title. On Saturday evening, the top seed of the ATP 250 Melbourne Summer Set battled past 95th-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, 6-4, 7-5, on Rod Laver Arena with the roof closed.

Nadal, playing in just his second match since last August, relied on his vast big-match experience and took advantage of some key mistakes made by the 22-year-old Ruusuvuori, who reached the semifinal round with earlier wins over Sebastian Baez, Jordan Thompson and Alex Molcan.

“To be back in a final of the tour is great,” Nadal said in press after his one-hour and 56-minute victory in his second match of the year. “Of course, I need to do a lot of things better on court, but the only thing that I am not missing is that positive attitude; don’t get frustrated when things are not going the way I wanted.”

When asked about his conditioning during his on-court interview, Nadal said: “My body is holding up, and that’s the main thing – and I need matches to get back to 100 percent. I know my tennis isn’t perfect, but it’s about being patient and doing my best.”

In Sunday’s final, Nadal will oppose French-born American qualifier Maxime Cressy, who will be making his first ATP Tour final appearance. On Saturday afternoon, the 24-year-old Cressy continued a dream week in Melbourne that began with two qualifying draw wins followed by an upset of No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka. He eliminated No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 7-5, 7-6 (9) in two hours and four minutes.

The 112th-ranked Cressy, who will make his Top 100 debut on Monday, finished off Dimitrov on his fourth match-point attempt. He ended his semifinal victory with 17 aces and saved five of five break points. Cressy outpointed Dimitrov 90-83.

Sunday’s title match will be the first meeting between Nadal and Cressy.

“He’s serving huge, playing very, very aggressive,” Nadal said of his 6-foot-5-inch opponent. “In fast conditions, he’s very, very dangerous. So, well done for him for being in the final after coming from the qualies. That’s great.

“I hope tomorrow I will be able to play at a high level and create my chances.”

• No. 1 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain will face No. 6 seeds Aleksandr Nedovyesov of Kazakhstan and Assam-Ul-Haq Quereshi of Pakistan in Sunday’s doubles final. Koolhof and Skupski defeated No. 3 seeds Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands, 6-2, 6-4, in 68 minutes while Nedovyesov and Qureshi beat Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania and Denys Molchanov of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-2, in 57 minutes.

By the numbers

Gaël Monfils will be playing in his first career Australian ATP Tour final. Overall, he’s 10-22 in ATP Tour finals. The 35-year-old Frenchman lats appeared in an ATP Tour final in Sofia last October, losing to Jannik Sinner. He won his last title in 2020 at Rotterdam.

“Quotable …”

“At the end of the day, we are friends but competitors on the court. We push each other. Obviously, when we play as a team, like in ATP Cup or Davis Cup, it’s great for our country to have as many good players at this moment.”

Karen Khachanov of Russia on his relationship with fellow Russian players Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev

“I know him because he has been in the Academy. So, I have practiced with him a couple of times. I practiced with him during this week before the tournament started. He’s very young, he improving. He has big potential. I wish him all the very best. He’s a great guy, I think, and he had his chances tonight. I’m happy to win against a good player like him.”

– Melbourne Summer Set No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal of Spain, sharing his thoughts on his semifinal opponent Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland