You’d be forgiven for wandering into Louis Armstrong Stadium early Thursday afternoon and, seeing Juan Carlos Ferrero take the court against No. 7 seed Gael Monfils, wondering: “That guy’s still playing?"
Dismissed from the US Open on his birthday by a blast from the past, Monfils must be equally baffled.
The 31-year-old Ferrero hasn’t played much in 2011. In fact, he missed all three previous majors this year with a litany of injuries. But the Spaniard, a former world No. 1 and finalist at the US Open back in 2003, showed few signs of inactivity and rust, and more importantly, fatigue, as he outlasted his younger and more athletic opponent in five grueling sets that took nearly five hours.
In the longest and most enthralling encounter of the tournament – easily the popcorn match so far – before a packed and wildly enthusiastic arena, Ferrero summoned the game that once took him to the top of the rankings to win his second consecutive five-setter and notch a shocking upset, 7-6, 5-7, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Monfils’s brand of high-risk tennis, a barrage of lightning foot speed, effortless power and feathery touch, is something to behold. The Frenchman hits the kind of scintillating shots no one else would even attempt, such as one he struck in the third set. Leaping in the air to hit what was sure to be a two-handed backhand crosscourt crunch, he suddenly changed course in mid-air and dipped a delicate drop shot from three feet off the ground.
Though Monfils produced a stunning 81 winners in the match, he also struck 81 errors, which gave Ferrero life.
Monfils saw the bright side of his tough loss. “Today is a good day for me. It's my birthday. My mom was there,” he said. “You know, all the time my mom say, ‘You win, you lose, you give your best.’ I think today I sort of smile at my mom even though I lost, so I was quite happy.”
For most of the afternoon, there was little daylight between the two foes, who traded myriad, but tiny, shifts of momentum. Through three sets, Ferrero weathered Monfils’s superior firepower, like a boxer hoping to make his opponent punch himself out. The strategy paid off in the fourth set, as the suddenly rejuvenated 2003 French Open champion began to hit out more aggressively and dictate play. Ferrero, growing in both energy and self-belief, held onto an early service break to force a fifth set.
After 4 hours and 46 minutes, as late-afternoon shadows engulfed the court and Ferrero prepared to serve for the match at 5-4, the crowd interrupted with a standing ovation, pausing to acknowledge the gladiator theater that had captivated them for an entire afternoon.
Ferrero stepped to the line and calmly served it out.
Asked about the standing ovation he and Monfils received, Ferrero said, “At 5‑4 in the fifth set, you know, I felt very special on the court.”
“At the end I think they love this kind of matches.”
- Prior to the US Open, Ferrero lost in the first round at both Montreal and Cincinnati, and he had won just one of his last five matches against Top 10 competition
- Ferrero is now 2-0 head-to-head with Monfils.
|Juan Carlos Ferrero ESP||77||5||65||6||6|
|Gael Monfils FRA (7)||65||7||77||4||4|