Monfils Delivers Knock-Out Punch To Medvedev At Indian Wells

Gaël Monfils (photo: ATP Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 15, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Day Six of the BNP Paribas Open began with a bang. That’s because World No. 1 and top seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia was knocked out of the ATP Masters 1000 event by No. 26 seed Gaël Monfils of France, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, in two hours and four minutes on Stadium 1.

The acrobatic and athletic Monfils overcame 44 unforced errors to hit 21 winners, none of them more important than an emphatic cross-court backhand winner that finished off a nifty four-shot rally on his sixth match-point opportunity. It gave the Frenchman a final 89-82 advantage in total points. Medvedev hit just 17 winners and racked up 37 unforced errors to go along with six double faults. His service was also broken five times by Monfils, who kept the Russian off-balance and forced him into playing defensively much of the time.

Medvedev’s overall performance was a far cry from two days earlier when, in his first match as the newly-ranked No. 1, he beat Czech qualifier Tomas Machac, 6-3, 6-2, to begin his chase for a fifth Masters 1000 crown.

Instead, Monfils dramatically delivered in the clutch with his wife, Elina Svitolina, cheering him from court side with the rest of his team. It was Monfils’ second career victory over a current World No. 1 and first since 2009.

“I played great tennis,” the 35-year-old Monfils said during a court side, post-match interview. “I knew I was in great shape and tough to beat. It’s always special to beat a World No. 1. …

“I moved great. I was striking the ball very good and I’m full of confidence. So, I’ll try to keep the flow.”

Next, Monfils will take on 18-year-old phenom Carlos Alcaraz of Spain. The No. 19 seed Alcaraz gave a solid performance in defeating No. 15 seed and fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, 6-2, 6-0, in barely over an hour to start the day on Stadium 3.

Coupled with his victory two days earlier against No. 59 Mackenzie McDonald, which was his first at Indian Wells, Alcaraz has improved to 10-1 after having become the youngest ATP 500 champion at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last month.

Nadal checking all the right boxes

Rafael Nadal has exceeded all expectations, checked all of the boxes. He’s winning, he appears healthy, he’s playing inspired tennis.

On Monday afternoon, Nadal extended his best start to an ATP Tour season with his 17th consecutive victory. The 35-year-old Spaniard, seeded fourth at Indian Wells, defeated 27th seed Dan Evans of Great Britain, 7-5, 6-3, in one hour and 42 minutes on Stadium 1 to advance to Wednesday’s fourth round. The win was Nadal’s 400th in Masters 1000 competition, and his 17 straight wins to start 2022 ties him for third-best overall in the Open Era with Pete Sampras (1977) and Roger Federer (2018).

“I didn’t know at all about that, but good numbers, of course,” Nadal said on court after his milestone victory.

Nadal, who rallied from 2-5 in the third set to beat Sebastian Korda on Saturday, which kept his perfect record, hit 26 winners and 27 unforced errors against Evans and outpointed the Briton 68-53. The victory improved Nadal’s head-to-head against the World No. 29 Evans to 3-0.

“The match didn’t start the way that I wanted,” Nadal admitted, “but I was able to hit a couple of good passing shots in some key moments, and then things started to build a bit better.”

After Nadal saved the only break point he faced in the final set, he went on to win his final 11 service points and finished with a couple of love holds. Nadal outpointed Evans 68-53. He heads into the fourth round as the highest-remaining seed in the men’s draw.

Following his Saturday victory against Korda, Nadal talked at length the importance his desire and attitude have played in the success he’s enjoyed on the tennis court.

“The reason why I have been fighting during all my tennis career or I have the right self-control or I have the right attitude or fighting spirit during my career is simple,” Nadal said. “Because I grew with this kind of education.

“My uncle, my family, never allowed me to break a racquet, never allowed me to say bad words or throw or give up a match. Probably when I was a kid, they didn’t care much about winning or losing.”

Meanwhile, Nadal’s next opponent was decided during one of the most entertaining matches of the day. It featured No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada against No. 17 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States, part of a packed schedule that continued well into the evening. The match was won by Opelka 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 16 minutes. The big-hitting American No. 1 hit a nifty backhand volley winner on match point for the victory. Opelka finished with 11 aces and 23 winners to 28 unforced errors, while Shapovalov finished with 32 winners and hit 33 unforced errors. Opelka outpointed his opponent 100-97.

Also, No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy fired 12 aces and hit 33 winners in his 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4 victory over unseeded Benjamin Bonzi of France that lasted two hours and 36 minutes on Stadium 3 Monday evening. The Italian from South Tyrol improved to 13-2 overall and it was his second career victory over the 62nd-ranked Bonzi. He was outpointed his opponent 110-108.

Next, Sinner will take on 132nd-ranked wild card Nick Kyrgios of Australia, who upset No. 8 seed Casper Ruud of Norway, 6-4, 6-4. It was the first Top-10 win for Kyrgios in more than two years.

By the end of the evening, Jenson Brooksby of the United States pulled off an improbable 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of World No. 5 and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece. Since February of last year, the 21-year-old Brooksby has soared from outside the Top 250 in the ATP Rankings to a current career-high No. 43. He’s also reached the finals in Newport and Dallas. Could another final be in the offering by this weekend? Anything’s possible.

The No. 43 Brooksby rallied from a set down and stormed back with 21 winners to 30 unforced errors and his tenacity contributed toward Tsitsipas committing 33 unforced errors. Brooksby outpointed Tsitsipas 85-80 to reach his first Masters 1000 round of 16.

“I’m really excited. It’s my favorite tournament. I grew up here. It’s the tournament I watched when I was a kid,” Brooksby said during a post-match TV interview. “It means a lot. I’m still making good strides from last year and continuing to improve. I’m excited to keep it going and see what I can do.”

Brooksby’s next opponent will be defending champion and 12th seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who advanced with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 18 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.

Badosa, Sorribes Tormo: compatriots, friends, competitors

Defending women’s champion Paula Badosa, seeded fifth this year, and No. 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo are fellow Spaniards, friends and sometimes doubles partners who often show up at each other’s matches offering support and cheer. Monday evening, they were competitors on Stadium 2. It was their first head-to-head meeting in two years, not since Istanbul in 2020, won by Badosa. They’ve met six times as pros but this is the biggest stage by far and it’s the first time Sorribes Tormo had reached the third round at Indian Wells.

Badosa, who is bidding to become only the second woman to defend her title in the Southern California palm desert, brought her serve and power game, while Sorribes Tormo countered with her deft touch and never-say-die attitude. With Sorribes Tormo, it’s a given that the match will be a grind-it-out-to-the-last-point kind of match – and it was. After two hours, Badosa fought to a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory. She hit 29 winners, converted six break points and outpointed Sorribes Tormo 78-61.

“It was a very tough match,” Badosa said during her on-court interview following the win. “[Sara] knows me very well. That’s the tough part about playing a friend. Mentally, I fought until the last point. I think that was the key to the match.”

Next, Badosa will next face No. 18 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who fought past No. 49 Shelby Rogers of the United States 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Sakkari equals deepest run at Indian Wells

Elsewhere, No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari lost just thee games in her third-round match against No. 27 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, winning 6-3, 6-0 in 65 minutes, to set up a fourth-round match against Australian qualifier Daria Seville. It’s the second time in four Indian Wells appearances that Sakkari has reached the fourth round.

“Obviously, Petra is a very tough opponent,” Sakkari said in press, “but I came [onto] the court and I was feeling it today. I think it was a very good day for me and like not a good day for her. I was just tactically playing the right way and serving really good. So, I think that was the reason why I won that match quite easily.”

Meanwhile, the 409th-ranked Saville eliminated No. 20 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, and her victory comes two days after she beat No. 9 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia. Coupled with winning two rounds in qualifying, Saville was strung together five straight wins in Indian Wells.

“I’m really proud of myself,” Saville said, quoted by the WTA website. “I had some really, really good moments, and some games where I was like, ‘What was that?’ … It was an interesting one, but I was able to be more aggressive in the third set.”

Also, No. 21 Veronika Kudermetova of Russia advanced by retirement over No. 97 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, ahead 6-4, 0-2. Bouzkova was unable to continue early in the second set due to an ankle injury. Next, Kudermetova will face No. 30 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, who surprised No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5). The Olympic silver medalist came back from 2-4 (0-30) in the final set to pull out the victory in two hours and 50 minutes. It was her third win in four tries against Kontaveit.

Finally, No. 17 seed Elena Rybakina became the first woman from Kazakhstan to reach the fourth round at Indian Wells following her 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 13 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a two-time Indian Wells champion (2012, 2016) and last year’s finalist. Rybakina fired five aces and won 88 percent (28 of 32) of her first-serve points en route to her 13th career Top-20 win.

In the round of 16, Rybakina will face No. 31 seed Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, who ended the run of Italy’s 46th-ranked Jasmine Paolini, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (4), by winning four of the last five points during the third-set tie-break. It’s the furthest Golubic has gone in the desert.

Monday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Tuesday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

Day Six highlights

Tommy Paul: One of seven American men moving on up

Late Sunday, 39th-ranked Tommy Paul of the United States pulled off the biggest men’s upset so far when he defeated World No. 4 and third seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (2), in two hours and 17 minutes. With his latest victory, Paul has reached the third round at Indian Wells for the second time. It ranks as the biggest win of his career – and it’s his fourth against a Top-10 opponent.

“I like playing here,” Paul said after his victory. “I like the conditions. The fans really support [the American players] here, and that’s why we all love it. It feels like a real home tournament.”

Paul’s win over Zverev is the second time he’s beaten the German following his previous success at Acapulco in 2020.

“I would hope that I can be in the Top 10,” Paul added. “That’s what it takes, you’ve got to beat more Top 10 players and I played well today, so I’m happy.”

On Tuesday, Paul will play No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia in the third round.

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“I was happy with my attitude in the matches that I played here. I thought that was positive. I tried to do the right things at times, just was not executing them well, and that’s where, and I’ve said I really need to also spend some time on the practice court to change those things.

“Obviously, winning matches and competing is important but there’s a few things that have been an issue for a period of time and I need a bit of time on the practice court to try and change that.”

— Former No. 1 Andy Murray of Great Britain, following his 7-6 (9), 6-3 second-round loss to No. 31 seed Alexander Bublik on Sunday.