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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Despite antics, Monfils the man

By Greg Garber

NEW YORK -- Gael Monfils remains one of the most spectacular athletes in professional sport. The 28-year-old Frenchman is also a piece of work. An example:

We take you back to this year's French Open, three weeks after Monfils retired from his semifinals match against Grigor Dimitrov in Bucharest, Romania, with a sprained ankle. In his first court appearance afterward, on a rain-slicked Court Philippe Chattrier, Monfils put on a gymnastics clinic. In a Kids' Day dance-off with fellow French player Laurent Lokoli, there were handstands, backward somersaults and some down-and-dirty steps that would have broken both ankles of a lesser man.

Gael Monfils
In his 11th year as a pro, Gael Monfils has reached two quarterfinals in the same season for the first time.

Naturally, Monfils won his first four matches in Paris -- including one over No. 15-ranked Fabio Fognini -- and took the first two sets off Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. That Monfils won a total of five games in what turned out to be a five-set loss surprised no one. Like the ubiquitous box of Russell Stover candies, you never really know what you're going to get with Monfils. Tuesday, he was rolling along against Dimitrov, of all people, when he went clown-crazy. Down love-40 at 4-all in the second set, he moved up halfway between the baseline and the service box, giving Dimitrov pause. Even as he began his walk to the changeover chair, Monfils slapped Dimitrov's serve into the back wall at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Would it shock you to learn that Monfils won his fourth-round match against the ascendant No. 7 seed 7-5, 7-6 (6), 7-5? Actually, this was a low-key match by Monfils standards. Maybe that's why he's through to his second US Open quarterfinal and sixth of his career. And, in his 11th year as a professional, he has now recorded two same-year major quarterfinals for the first time.

"I haven't changed a lot," Monfils said. "I just play maybe solid today, but I'm still the same.

"I keep like simple thing in my head, so obviously is working. Then it's luck. To be honest, look at set point. I hit one of the worst drop shots I ever hit and he hit a frame It's pure luck, you know, to haven't drop a set. So you need to have it sometime, and I hope I will have more."

Monfils, the very picture of consistency, has won each and every one of the 12 sets he's played.

"It's because I love to play here," Monfils said in his on-court interview. "Such a good energy. I feel good. I'm happy, so I deliver a good game."

On the certifiably hottest day of the summer in New York (it touched 92 degrees and the humidity was brutal), Monfils schooled the 23-year-old Dimitrov with patience more than anything. He broke the Bulgarian in the 11th game of the first set and closed out at love. Then, after saving two set points in a second-set tiebreaker to get to 6-all, Monfils induced Dimitrov -- with a series of short but disarming bloop shots -- to bang two forehands long.

While most players drink highly calibrated energy concoctions on the sideline, Monfils actually sipped a Coke at one point, and toasted his agent.

And so the No. 20 seed is envisioning a quarterfinal match with No. 2 Roger Federer, who was to play No. 17 Roberto Bautista Agut in the first night match.

For Dimitrov, count this Slam as disappointing. He broke through with his first career major quarterfinal at the Australian Open and followed it up with a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon.

It was a sweet win for Monfils, who is playing here without a coach. His former mentor, Roger Rasheed, happens to be Dimitrov's coach. For now, Monfils said: "I'll keep it like this."

Maybe next time for Thiem

Twenty-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem -- who turned the legal age of 21 three hours after his match -- had the major run of his young life, getting to the fourth round.

But the youngest man to reach that point was turned away from a quarterfinal berth by No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in a swift 92-minute match.

Berdych meets No. 14 Marin Cilic, a 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 winner over a vs. No. 26 Gilles Simon. That match required 4 hours, 13 minutes.

No. 1 is done

Catherine "CiCi" Bellis, the darling of this US Open and the No. 1 seed, is out of the junior girls' singles tournament.

The 15-year-old from San Francisco, who became the youngest player to win a main-draw match in 18 years, ran into a bigger, stronger player, Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia. The 2-hour, 9-minute match, played on the Grandstand, ended at 7-6 (9), 2-6, 6-1.

As the score suggests, the first-set tiebreaker was epic. Vikhlyantseva converted her sixth set point with an ace down the middle at 105 mph. The Russian's fastest serve, 114 mph, was 15 mph faster than Bellis' best offering.

Bellis and partner Marketa Vondrousova are the No. 1 seed in the girls' junior doubles event.

It's Serena's fault(s)

Serena Williams, by broad consensus, has the greatest serve the women's game has ever seen. But Tuesday, that powerful stroke let her down.

Serving at 4-5 in the second set of a women's doubles quarterfinal, she hit consecutive double faults, and she and sister Venus fell to No. 4 seed Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Their Wimbledon exit was similar, as a visibly wobbly Serena hit four straight double faults. This time, however, she appeared to have her wits about her in the match that was played before a good-sized crowd on Louis Armstrong.

Serena called a medical timeout in the second set and WTA trainers treated her right ankle and re-taped it. This could be significant because Serena meets No. 11 seed Flavia Pennetta in a quarterfinal match Wednesday. She could see Makarova again in the semifinals, if the Russian can get by Victoria Azarenka.

Venus and Serena have won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles.

Davis Cup teams announced

There will be some star power when the Davis Cup semifinals begin Sept. 12-14 in Paris and Switzerland, if the players announced Tuesday morning actually play.

Federer and Stan Wawrinka are scheduled to play on a hard court in Geneva against an Italian team that features Fognini. Meanwhile, on the clay at Roland Garros, the French team of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Monfils takes on the Czech Republic, which is led by Tomas Berdych.

Federer, Wawrinka and Monfils were still alive in the US Open at the time of the announcement.

Et cetera

No 1 seeds Bob and Mike Bryan advanced to the doubles semifinals by defeating No. 7 seeds David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. The 36-year-old California twins were down 15-40 at 4-all on Bob's serve and managed to save two de facto match points. The final four opponent is something of a surprise: the unseeded team of Americans Scott Lipsky and Rajeev Ram. ... No. 6 boys' junior seed Francis Tiafoe, who trains in College Park, Maryland, was a second-round winner when Sweden's Daniel Appelgren retired after losing the first set 7-6 (3) ... No. 3 seed Jared Donaldson of Providence, Rhode Island, handled Simone Roncalli of Italy 6-3, 6-1 ... Katerina Stewart of the United States won her second-round match 6-2, 6-1 over the No. 12 seed from Russia, Anastasiya Komardina ... The brother-sister team of Usue Maitane and Jordi Arconada both won their first-round matches, but ... Maitane fell to No. 16 seed Olga Fridman 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, while Jordi fell 6-3, 7-6 (3) to No. 1 boys' seed Andrey Rublev of Russia. The sister represents the United States, while the brother plays under the flag of Argentina ... No. 14 seed Taylor Harry Fritz (U.S.) beat Filippo Baldi of Italy 6-0, 6-1 ... Raveena Kingsley (U.S.) defeated Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia 6-4, 7-5.