Sometimes it is hard to know who bears the greater frustration – Gael Monfils, or those watching a player with such blockbuster talents struggle to translate his game for grass. The No.24 seed launched a late comeback against 20-year-old Wimbledon debutant Jiri Vesely, but ultimately bowed out 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-7(1), 6-7(3), 6-4.
“I’m always frustrated when I play on grass,” said Monfils, who has never reached the second week at Wimbledon. “For me, it’s a court where I cannot feel comfortable, and if I cannot feel comfortable I cannot use my conditioning. My main thing is playing physically, and I can’t on grass. It’s not fun at all, for me. It’s very frustrating.”
None of which should detract from a well-merited victory for Vesely, who beat a seeded player for the first time at his fifth Grand Slam. The tall left-hander will be one to watch over the coming years – well-equipped in all departments behind a serve that at one stage reached 143mph, he was unfazed by the occasion and calmness personified throughout the contest, even as he began fading physically late in the fourth set.
In contrast, Monfils was a study in distraction, laughing with friends and chatting with the umpire in an effort to remain calm. His annoyance first betrayed him at 3-4 in the first set as he blasted two returns long to concede the game from 30-0. At 5-6, each point lost was met with a different response: 15-0 prompted a single, sudden roar; 30-0, some quiet muttering; at 40-0, he dropped and stared at his racket for a while; then, after being passed by a Vesely forehand to set up the tie-break, a deep breath and an effort to regroup.
All the while, Vesely quietly went about his business. Suitably fresh after playing less than a set of his first-round match before Victor Estrella’s retirement, the world No.68 stuck to a simple game plan – drive into space and move forwards. Monfils attempted to fire himself up but the momentum was with the Czech, who rode it through the tie-break and on to a 3-0 lead in the second set that the Frenchman could not recoup.
When the Czech claimed his third break of the match early in the third set, Monfils looked set to bow out tamely. But a slip at 4-3 rattled Vesely, and the Frenchman sensed his opportunity, breaking back and holding firm before running away with the second tie-break of the match. By the time the fourth set approached the same conclusion, Vesely was showing signs of slowing down, the exertions of three hours finally catching up with him.
Vesely bowed out of the Australian Open after opening up a two-set lead against Kevin Anderson back in January, and when Monfils brought up two break points at 3-4 in the fifth his gutsy display looked set to go unrewarded. Not only did the Czech hold, however – he broke the Frenchman in the following game to leave himself serving for the match at 5-4.
Running on fumes, Vesely opened with a double-fault and snatched at a couple of forehands to hand Monfils two break points. But the Czech was not to be denied, volleying his way out of trouble to seal the victory on his first match point, collapsing at the net after tucking away the winning volley.
One of the ATP World Tour’s young guns is now guaranteed to feature in the fourth round at The Championships. Up next for Vesely is fellow former junior world No.1 Nick Kyrgios, who came through a five-set epic against Richard Gasquet just yards away and moments later on No.2 Court.
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