Andy Murray blasts Gael Monfils away in final set

Struggling Scot turns it around in five-set thriller against home favourite at Roland Garros

 
Andy Murray, forced to continue a fight in the dark he should have finished with a knockout in the sunlight, drew on his considerable reserves of perversity to bagel a rampant Gaël Monfils in 21 crazy minutes for a five-set victory that was as unexpected as it was dramatic.
 
He won 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 in three hours and 12 minutes and will be rewarded for his efforts with a semi-final against the defending champion, Rafael Nadal on Friday.
 
“Nadal had good memories on this court,” Murray said in towering understatement of the man who was won the title eight times. “I’ll need to recover well, but I’m happy to be in the semi-finals.”
 
He brings a different sort of energy to their encounter, that drawn from doggedness. When Monfils, utterly demoralised, drove his final forehand into the net, Murray had pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks of his career to reach his second French semi-final. But he was as sorry for the loser as everyone in France.
 
“We’ve known each other since we were 10, 11 years old,” he said of Monfils. “I’m very good friends with him, so it’s tough conditions to play under. Very windy at the start, slow and heavy. I started well. When the wind calmed down he played some incredible tennis. I was just lucky that he started the fifth set badly.”
 
How glad he ultimately was, though, that the tournament supervisor, Stefan Franzen, declined his plea to let them go to the locker room at two sets apiece, with the spreading darkness on Court Philippe Chatrier matching his mood.
 
At that moment, Nadal was packing his bag over on Court Suzanne Lenglen after roaring back at David Ferrer to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 in the other quarter-final. Ferrer took just eight games off his compatriot in last year’s final, and extended him only three more here, so Nadal is in excellent shape to reach for his ninth title.
 
The Murray-Monfils match was a rarity at this level in the modern game – a contest between two players without coaches – but it was the Scot who looked most lost after taking the first two sets.
 
Hitting through the early wind, Murray kept his shots flat and direct, breaking early. But he had to fight hard to extend his lead to 3-0, as Monfils dragged him through deuce. The Frenchman saved one set point but could do nothing about Murray’s clinical finish to a long rally, a charge to the net followed by a snappy forehand clip into untended dirt.
 
When Murray went 5-0 up in the second, a quick evening’s work looked in prospect – but Monfils had vivid memories of their only meeting here, in 2006, a curious match of fluctuations in which he prevailed over five sets.
 
He was encouraged to believe he would get some joy in the fourth game when Murray gifted him a couple of easy points on his serve but the Scot drove the dagger deeper. He threatened a bagel but had to serve through deuce to take the set 6-1.
 
Murray took sportsmanship to the extreme when a spare ball fell out of his pocket, the umpire called let and Monfils complained. After a quick chat, Murray conceded the point. The hard-headed opinion among the watching pros was that he had been unnecessarily generous – as he was in similar circumstances against Fernando Verdasco. It mattered not. He was soon two sets up – with a surprise or two to come.
 
Having looked as if someone had sucked every globule of oxygen from him, Monfils breathed fire at the start of the third, rousing the crowd to a frenzy, although he could not cash in on three break points.
 
Murray’s serve dipped in the gloaming, the rants to his box grew louder and the net grew bigger. Serving to stay in the set, he hit long to give Monfils two set points. He saved them, then handed him another – plus a very French, lower-lip shrug. When he stuck a backhand into the net to stretch the match into a fourth set, all the energy was with France’s enigmatic hero. What an hour earlier had been a cakewalk was now a high-class street fight.
 
Murray has been in a hundred self-created messes such as this and invariably his perversity gets him out of trouble. But Monfils was performing magic tricks. Murray needed him to saw himself in half. He refused. He held serve more easily. He gave Murray nightmares when receiving.
 
When he hit long to give Monfils the break in the fourth game, Murray’s prospects of closing it out faded with the light. He looked leg weary and nonplussed in the face of genius. Monfils held to love for 4-1 and tapped the most nonchalant reflex volley away for 5-1, before serving out against an opponent whose tennis fell to pieces.
 
Then came the final set, one that nobody present will easily forget. The umpteenth turning point in a match that swung violently in all directions went Murray’s way as he smashed a volley to break, then held for 3-0, and tension flooded the previously rampant racket of the Frenchman as he blasted a forehand long for 4-0. In a twinkling it was 5-0 – and it was Monfils who wanted a cessation to the battle.
 
But the deed had to be done. There would be no mercy.
 
Guardian Service
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