Gaël Monfils had never won a Davis Cup rubber on foreign soil but the 24-year-old Frenchman yesterday chose the perfect occasion to break his duck. Playing the opening rubber of the Davis Cup final in Belgrade, Monfils outclassed Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic 6-1, 7-6, 6-0 in just over two hours.
Monfils, who has never been beaten in home ties, was always likely to play a crucial role as France went in search of their 10th victory in the competition. The highest-ranked player in Guy Forget's team may yet have to win his reverse singles match tomorrow against Novak Djokovic, who was attempting to level the tie in last night's second rubber against Gilles Simon.
Serbia, playing in their first final, had the benefit of huge support in the 16,200-capacity Belgrade Arena, but the occasion seemed to get to Tipsarevic, who had been the key figure in his team's semi-final victory over the Czech Republic. The world No 49, who had not played a competitive match for a month, never recovered from a dreadful start, when he hit double faults on his first two service points.
Monfils, whose natural talent and athleticism have never been in doubt, has added more subtlety to his play in the last year, during which he has reached four tour finals, winning one of them. A big hitter with a huge forehand and potent serve, the world No 12 troubled Tipsarevic with his sliced backhands and clever drop shots, as well as his power. Tipsarevic, who had been named as the home team's second singles player in preference to the higher ranked Viktor Troicki, looked nervous from the start as Monfils made two early breaks of serve.
The atmosphere in the arena, in which many of the fans were wearing red Serbian shirts, had been electric at the start, but the home supporters' drums were soon being beaten with less conviction.
Nevertheless the second set was much tighter and Tipsarevic had his chances. But trailing 4-5 in the tie-break, the Serb missed a volley following a big Monfils return and then hit a forehand long. Tipsarevic had come back from two-sets down on four previous occasions in his career, including three times in the Davis Cup, but faded fast after dropping serve with a double fault at the end of a marathon game at the start of the third set.