French Open 2014: Andy Murray v Gael Monfils - Scot peaking in time to end home run

British No 1 feeling fitter than ever since surgery and hitting backhand beautifully

roland garros

Timing has always been one of Andy Murray's strengths and the Scot is hitting his best form as sweetly as he strikes his double-handed backhand. The first five months of his comeback following back surgery have not always been easy, but as Murray prepares for his French Open quarter-final here against Gaël Monfils the signs are that his game is peaking in time for the critical period of the season.

"That was what I was hoping, what I was planning for," Murray said ahead of his fourth Roland Garros quarter-final. "The Australian Open was always going to be tough for me to be 100 per cent in terms of match fitness, but I did OK there and hopefully between now and the end of the year I can feel like this. When I do I'll be able to play good tennis.

"These are the tournaments that ultimately I want to peak at, I want to play my best tennis at. They mean a lot to me. To play my best tennis and have my most consistent results in the biggest tournaments is what you want to do as a player."

Feeling better physically has been crucial. Having missed last year's French Open after aggravating a long-term back condition, Murray nursed himself through the summer before undergoing surgery in September.

"I was in a lot of pain for a long time," Murray said. "[It was] frustrating, tiring, daily. You go through a lot of different emotions. At times it can make you very angry. Normally I enjoy all the training that goes with it, but there were periods when it would become difficult. I'd try to push hard and it would hurt and so I'd have to ease off. I couldn't get myself into the shape I wanted to be in. Hopefully now I'm over the worst and so long as I keep monitoring it and doing all the right things with it, I'll be fine."

He added: "The way I'm hitting my backhand now is 10 times better than it was last year and moving to that side as well is so much better than it was. There were periods this year when I had some problems, but that is to be expected with surgery and it's starting to get better slowly and I'm close to being back to 100 per cent. That's exciting for me, especially at this stage of the year, with a big few weeks around the corner."

Mats Wilander, three times a champion here and now a Eurosport analyst, has been particularly impressed by Murray's backhand. "He's timing it so well," Wilander said. "He hits some backhands which are literally right after the bounce. He's hitting the target with his forehands as well, but really the backhand is the one which I think he relies on.

"The strength of his upper body is unbelievable. The ball shoots through the court, more so than Novak Djokovic's backhand at the moment. If you allow Andy Murray to do what he did [against Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round] it's nearly impossible to beat him. He is great at making adjustments and if he is as confident as he is now then he's a danger to all of them."

Murray will have to contend not only with his opponent but with a crowd supporting their local hero. The match will be played on Court Philippe Chatrier, the main show court, while Rafael Nadal's quarter-final against David Ferrer – a rematch of last year's final – has been relegated to Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Monfils, a Parisian, has reserved most of his best Grand Slam performances for his home tournament. He has reached one semi-final and two previous quarter-finals, losing to Roger Federer on each occasion. "They give me more energy and more belief," Monfils said of his home crowd. "I like playing in Paris. I grew up here and I just feel great here."

Like Murray, the world No 28 is currently without a coach. He is a wonderful entertainer but can be frustratingly unpredictable and has had at least seven coaches in his professional career. The 27-year-old Frenchman has been working on his own for more than a year now. "Sometimes it's tough," he said. "I miss someone else's view of me and for sure the preparation before a match is not easy."

Although Monfils is a great athlete – "maybe the best we have had in tennis," according to Murray – he has been struggling for fitness. Even during his three-set victory over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Monday he was starting to look fatigued. "I'm tired," Monfils admitted. "The second week is never easy. Even over three sets I think I lost a lot of nervous energy."

Murray and Monfils have known each other since they were 10 and 11 respectively, when they met at a tournament in the south of France. They are good friends and have the highest respect for one another. Monfils said he had been impressed by the way the Scot has played on clay.

"People used to say that Roger [Federer] did not play well on clay, but he won the final here," Monfils said. "The same for Murray. He's already played in a semi-final here and the way he played against Rafa in Rome showed that he was to be reckoned with."

Murray has won three of their five meetings, but Monfils has come out on top on both occasions when they have played in Paris, at the 2006 French Open and the 2010 Paris Masters. However, since losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round of the 2008 Australian Open, Murray has won his last 20 Grand Slam matches against French players. After his travails of the last nine months, victory No 21 would be one of his sweetest.

Sharapova stumped by Judy and her teabag

Judy Murray may be a tennis celebrity in Britain but Maria Sharapova has never heard of her. Andy Murray's mother compared Sharapova to a teabag on Twitter today – "Put her into hot water and you'll find out how strong she is" – but when it was mentioned at the Russian's post-match press conference she said: "Sorry. I didn't know who Judy Murray is."

Sharapova also had trouble understanding the comment. "Can you explain that to me? I'm a big tea drinker. I don't understand what she means." When it was explained, she smiled: "That's great. She's very creative. I guess she could have put it many different ways, and she chose the English version."

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition