Monfils lifts hopes of ending French drought

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The Independent Online

It may sound like a statement of the obvious, but you bump into the French around every corner here. Of the 256 players who started out in the men's and women's singles competitions at the French Open, a remarkable 36 were from the home nation.

Twelve made it into the main draw thanks to wild cards, but 20 were there on the strength of their rankings and the other four earned their places through the qualifying tournament. The world rankings reveal a similar picture, with nine Frenchmen and five women in the top 100 and 21 men and 11 women in the top 200.

Nevertheless, for all their strength in depth the French have not produced a male Grand Slam champion since Yannick Noah beat Mats Wilander to win the title here 28 years ago.

According to the rankings, the hosts' best hopes of current success lie with Gaël Monfils (world No 9), Richard Gasquet (No 16), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No 17) and Gilles Simon (No 18). Simon meets a fellow countryman, Jérémy Chardy, in the second round today, while the three Frenchman ranked above him all reached the third round yesterday.

Gasquet recovered from a slow start to beat Marcel Granollers 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, Monfils beat Guillaume Rufin 6-3, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 and Tsonga beat Igor Andreev 6-3, 7-6, 6-3. Tsonga is the most recent French Grand Slam finalist, having lost to Novak Djokovic in Melbourne three years ago. Monfils, who enjoyed his best ever run at a Grand Slam tournament when he reached the semi-finals here three years ago before losing to Roger Federer, provided another example of his clay-court prowess. One of the game's great athletes, the 24-year-old can seem all but impossible to pass as he slides around the court with the confidence of a Torvill or Dean on ice. Wearing bright purple, he must have been a formidable sight across the net for Rufin, a 20-year-old Frenchman who came through qualifying.

Gasquet, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, has a poor record here, having won just four matches in seven previous visits. The former world No 7 has been rebuilding his form ever since the drugs controversy that interrupted his career two years ago. He has played some of his best tennis in recent weeks and claimed the scalps of both Federer and Tomas Berdych in Rome this month.

Two Frenchwomen have won Grand Slam titles since the turn of the century: Mary Pierce triumphed here in 2000 and Amélie Mauresmo won the Australian Open and Wimbledon six years later. Marion Bartoli (world No 11) is the only French woman in the world's top 100 still in the singles and was less than impressive in beating Olga Govortsova 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 to reach the third round.

One of the French wild cards, Maxime Teixeira, enjoyed an all too brief moment in the sun when he faced Federer on Court Suzanne Lenglen, winning five games as the former world No 1 needed just 84 minutes to reach the third round, where he will play Janko Tipsarevic. Djokovic was not detained for much longer, winning his 41st match in a row as Victor Hanescu retired injured when trailing 6-4, 6-1, 2-3. Djokovic now plays Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Blaz Kavcic 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Caroline Wozniacki, the women's world No 1, beat Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak 6-3, 7-6, but had to save three set points in the tie-break, which she clinched by winning five points in a row from 6-3 down. Francesca Schiavone, the defending champion, won 6-1, 6-2 against Russia's Vesna Dolonts, who had beaten Britain's Anne Keothavong.

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