As The Clay Settles
June 3, 2009 -- Roger Federer defeated Gael Monfils today in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros to advance to his 20th career semifinal of a Grand Slam. These are twenty consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearances. It is a ridiculous number that no one will surpass... ever.
Think back over one year, which has four Grand Slam semifinals. Now stretch your mind back five years, which is the length of time Federer has been hitting tennis balls well enough and with the consistency that he is one of four men left standing ready to play a semifinal, out of the 128 who began in each draw.
How does a professional tennis player or any athlete do that? How do they persevere day in and day out? It might look glamorous from afar; however, Federer's job is a 24/7 commitment that covers all but a couple weeks in a year. And, you have to bet that he hits tennis balls a few days out of those two weeks.
Federer, though, has not won a title since the 2008 U. S. Open. Comments about his ability to stay at the top span from "he's through" to "he's in a slump -- remember Sampras," to "Nadal's in his head."
"I was actually pretty happy the way I've always been playing," Roger said about his match play this year. "I think it would have been different if I would have lost first and second round all the time, but it wasn't the case. I always played semis or finals, basically. It was just important to keep on working extremely hard and do the right things. I'm happy that the hard work is paying off, you know, more and more."
So there's no potion to drink or pill to pop -- he works hard.
Gael Monfils, too, is an extremely talented tennis player. However, his match disposition contrasts sharply with Federer's.
In the third set today -- a make or break one for the Frenchman -- Monfils faced several break points at 4-games all. After one clever point he was pumped. "Allez!!!" The fans rocked Roland Garros in reply. He looked up to his box, pounded his chest. Then he walked to the baseline to try and win the game. He double faulted and then played a loose point. He lost the game. Federer served out the set and the match: 76 (6) 62 64.
The excitement unleashed by Monfils was a bit over the top for having been given another opportunity at deuce. His reactions wasted time, energy, and focus. His emotions were way up there, then back to business. However, he couldn't concentrate enough to win the game. The most important game of the match.
His performance throughout the match was erratic, especially in the second set. He played brilliantly and then faded. He has a monstrous serve, which he used to his advantage a majority of the time. His forehand is formidable. When he used it, and crushed it, Federer had no replies except to bunt the ball back or shank it to the rafters. However, Monfils didn't get the message that if he consistently played at that level, he might have set Federer on his heels enough to get in the match and make it much more competitive than it turned out.
"What I really regret is the second set," Monfils said. "It was really not a good set. I got angry about it. You know, to beat these guys I must be 100% in the match. But then I sent him this message, you see, that I got angry, and that's not good. I got back in the match, but he was up two sets and he could sort of relax. It was totally different. That bothered me."
The stats from the match are surprisingly similar for each man. However, once Federer won the first set -- after Monfils held set points -- the tide turned. Both men were nervous at the beginning. Roger's emotions settled down at the start of the second set.
"He was stronger than I was, and he managed to read the game better than I could," Monfils said. "He's got experience, okay. But I've been playing against him twice now more or less the same level, and I think the difference is based on the fact that his game is really a pain in the ass, you know, more than anything else, more than any other player."
Roger Federer is now 5-0 against Gael Monfils. The Swiss might be pleased to hear that his game is "a pain in the ass."
Let's hope Monfils settles down and learns to concentrate better during critical matches. He is a joy to watch and an exceptional athlete. His anticipation and foot speed are some of the best on tour. His daring on court entertains and exhilarates fans. As a junior he ended up one short of a Junior Grand Slam. Deep inside he has it. Patience, hard work, and mental strength, will win out in the end for Monfils.
Svetlana Kuznetsova destroyed Serena Williams aspirations of winning an 11th Grand Slam title, when the Russian defeated Williams today in three tightly contested sets: 76 (3) 57 75. Each player had ten break point opportunities. Each converted six times. There were more breaks and ups and downs in this match than fans could keep track of.
However, Kuznetsova kept her head and won. At the Australian Open this year, she played Serena in the final. Kuznetsova was up a set and 5-3 in the second set. Serena somehow managed, probably with help from her opponent, to run off 11 games in a row and claim the title.
Svetlana went up an early break in the first today when Williams stepped up her game. In a tough tiebreak, Kuznetsova proved the stronger player. In the second set, her wheels started to wobble.
"I had chances in the second set and I didn't use them," Kuznetsova said.
At one point in the second as she slid into a shot her foot rolled over. She tumbled, but recovered and was fine. However, her mind was on her feet. She thought about them, not the points, and lost the set.
"She start to play better," Kuznetsova continued. "It was the same scenario as Australian Open. It was identical. In this second set, third set, I was pushing myself and I could fight still for the third set. This brought me the victory, because still fight until the end."
Kuznetsova will face Australian Samantha Stosur, the 30th seed of the tournament. Stosur took out Sonora Cirstea 61 63. This is Stosur's first foray to a Grand Slam semifinal. She has in the past been ranked number one in the world in doubles.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 2, 2009 French Open Coverage: And The Hits Just Keep On Coming
June 1, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Vacuum Left by Nadal
May 31, 2009 French Open Coverage: Both Defending Champs Out At French Open
May 30, 2009 French Open Coverage: Draw Opens as Djokovic Falls In Three
May 29, 2009 French Open Coverage: What's Up With All That Noise!
May 28, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Shifting Clay of Roland Garros
May 27, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Heart of a Champion
May 26, 2009 French Open Coverage: American Women in Paris
May 25, 2009 French Open Coverage: Sharapova Fights On, Nadal and Federer Cruise
May 24, 2009 French Open Coverage: Bienvenue au Paris