Suppressed French passions lifted by thrills of Monfils
Thursday 05 June 2008
Roland Garros has waited 25 years to crown a home-grown champion. Gaël Monfils has not won the French Open yet and would still have to beat two of the world's top three players to emulate Yannick Noah, the 1983 champion, but the 21-year-old Parisian set Court Philippe Chatrier alight here last night with a storming quarter-final victory over David Ferrer.
Monfils, who beat the Spaniard 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, had never previously gone beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament but now plays Roger Federer for a place in the final. The world No 59 has always been recognised as a major talent, but a combination of injuries and a failure to maintain lasting relationships with his coaches had prevented him from realising his potential.
That talent was gloriously evident in his win over Ferrer, who sank under a barrage of attacking shots struck from all corners of the court. Ferrer is one of the world's best clay-court players and a tireless runner, but the world No 5's game eventually fell apart. When Monfils is in this mood he can look unbeatable: a fine athlete, he covers the court so well, sliding into his shots with such ease, that it can look impossible to get the ball past him.
The winner of his semi-final will face either Rafael Nadal, the world No 2, or Novak Djokovic, the No 3.
Earlier, the crowd on Court Suzanne Lenglen may have wondered at one stage whether they had enjoyed a glass of Chablis too many with their lunch. Federer, the world No 1, dropped his serve three times in losing the first set against Fernando Gonzalez before recovering to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
Federer broke to lead 3-1 in the second set and eventually swept Gonzalez aside. Gonzalez led 40-0 on Federer's serve in the opening game of the third set but smashed his racket in frustration as his opponent fought back. Federer won 36 of his last 40 service points, including the last 17 in succession. "I was really under pressure in the first set," Federer said. "I was missing a lot of shots, and he defended well."
Following the previous day's quarter-final victories by two Serbs – Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will meet in today's semi-finals – it was the turn of two Russians to secure their last-four places in the other half of the women's draw. Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Kaia Kanepi, of Estonia, 7-5, 6-2, while Dinara Safina, reaching her first Grand Slam semi-final, beat another Russian, Elena Dementieva, 4-6, 7-6, 6-0.
The match was remarkably similar to Safina's previous victory over Maria Sharapova. The 22-year-old world No 14 was again a set and 5-2 down, but saved a match point before winning a tie-break and going on to claim victory.
* Slazenger will be the title sponsor for the pre-Wimbledon grass-court tournament at Nottingham, which begins on 14 June.
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