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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, October 27, 2021

 
Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils dominated on serve defeating Lorenzo Musetti, 7-6(2), 6-4, while Jannik Sinner showed a sharp return sweeping Reilly Opelka in Vienna.

Photo credit: Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty

Thirteen years after Gael Monfils played the Vienna final, he performed remodeling in his return.

Monfils painted lines, rapped the service box, skidded into obscure corners and shrank open court spaces.

More: TN Q&A Brian Vahaly

Sharp-serving and court savvy, Monfils boxed Lorenzo Musetti in wrapping a tidy 7-6(2), 6-4 win to reach the Erste Bank Open round of 16.

Monfils is through to his sixth round of 16 appearance in his last seven tournaments.

After a horrific 3-10 start to the season that saw an emotional Monfils confess he felt adrift on court at times, the 35-year-old Frenchman has brought back the joy, energy, entertainment value and effort back.

Results have returned, too. Monfils raised his record to 16-16 with today’s win that vaults him into a showdown vs. 2020 Roland Garros semifinalist Diego Schwartzman.

The eighth-seeded Schwartzman broke four times fending off Fabio Fognini 6-2, 7-5. Schwartzman has won nine of his last 12 matches, including reaching the Indian Wells quarterfinals.

The 16th-ranked Schwartzman and 21st-ranked Monfils have split four prior meetings with Schwartzman scoring a 6-3, 6-2 win in their last meeting in the 2019 Vienna semifinals.




This first clash between the acrobatic Monfils and stylish Musetti delivered shot-making fireworks and absurdly creative angles from both men for more than a set.

Ultimately, Monfils’ sharper serve and superior return game proved pivotal. Monfils served 63 percent, pumped 9 aces, won 32 of 35 first-serve points and did not face a break point in a one hour, 32-minute conquest.

Wild card Musetti fired some whiplash one-handed backhand winners down the line and dared deploying the drop shot against one of the sport’s speediest players. Musetti carved out a forehand dropper and spiked a serve down the T holding to force the first-set tiebreaker.

In the breaker, Monfils’ athleticism and guile sparked him to a 6-1 surge. The Frenchman, who had been dropping back well behind the baseline to return serve, surprised Musetti creeping in and cracking a backhand return down the line for a 3-0 lead. Monfils drew a pair of errors to go up 6-1 and closed the set coaxing a forehand error.

Monfils won 18 of 19 first-serve points and dropped just four points on serve winning a high-quality and highly entertaining opening set in 57 minutes.

There’s a lot to love about the 19-year-old Musetti’s game—he’s a stylish shotmaker, can play all-court tennis, shifts spins shrewdly and applies soft touch to unsettling effect—but his return game remains a work in progress. Musetti often returns from a deeper position behind the baseline and finds himself playing catch-up from defensive positions. The Italian managed to win just nine points on his second serve and only six points on Monfils’ second serve.

The inability to work out his return game is one reason Musetti fell to 3-11 since his run to the Roland Garros fourth round and stands at 19-19 overall this season. Still, the pair produced some athletic, electric exchanges—hopefully they’ll square off again in 2022.

Tennis Express

While Musetti showed return struggles, compatriot Jannik Sinner was a sniper on return.

Reading Reilly Opelka’s ballistic serve is as easy as examining the inspection sticker on a car blurring by you on the freeway.

Unless you’re Sinner, who calmly cut off angles breaking the big man three times in a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Sinner and Opelka partnered to win the Atlanta doubles title during the summer. This first singles meeting between the pair saw Sinner break in the fifth game of both sets. Sinner won 37 percent of Opelka's first-serve points, a staggering stat on on indoor hard court given the towering American's wrecking ball serve.




A phenomenal full-stretch forehand return from Sinner came back so quickly, Opelka’s forehand reply expired in net for a break point.

Balance and tranquil body control are Sinner assets. The Italian showed his athleticism absorbing a heavy serve and stinging forehand from Opelka, who drew the high ball but clubbed it into net. Sinner broke for 3-2 for the second straight set.

The seventh-seeded Sinner won five games in a row to close, raising his record to 43-18 on the season.

The 20-year-old Sinner rides a nine-match indoor hard-court winning streak—including titles in Sofia and Antwerp—into his round-of-16 clash vs. Dennis Novak. Austrian wild card Novak edged Italian qualifier Gianluca Mager 7-6(4), 7-6(4).

 

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