Gael Monfils has dived head-first into his first Australian Open quarterfinal with an entertaining 7-5 3-6 6-3 7-6(4) victory over unseeded Russian Andrey Kuznetsov on Monday.
At 3-2 in the second set, the acrobatic Frenchman became airborne as he leaped, racquet-first, to reach a wide forehand at the back of the court. The return missed but the sheer ridiculousness of the attempt embodies everything that endears Monfils to fans around the world.
When asked post-match about his decision to momentarily take flight, Monfils replied: “It’s like something snaps in my mind. I’m a competitor so when I need to, I just fly.
"People need to understand that if I dive, it's because I know I can dive. It's instinct."
Such acrobatics don’t come without cost, however. Monfils immediately called for a medical timeout during the next change of ends, having appeared to scrape his fingers during the fall.
"It's very painful. I cannot even grip anything right now. I have a deep cut," Monfils said.
But undeterred, Monfils returned to court and forged his way to a powerful win in two hours and 37 minutes.
Along with his usual athleticism and shotmaking, Monfils produced a serving performance that was flawless at times.
He sent 14 aces down for the match and did not lose a single point on his first serve during the third set.
However, it wasn’t completely smooth sailing for the 23rd seed. Two double faults at 3-4 in the second set gave Kuznetsov the opportunity needed to break Monfils, and he subsequently held serve to win the set.
"Unlucky I felt in the second. I lost a bit the momentum because at this period I thought I had him," Monfils said.
But from there, breaking the Frenchman proved impossible. Monfils repeatedly produced breathtaking shots at crucial times, like his looping forehand from four metres behind the baseline to bring up a mini-break in the final tiebreak.
Kuznetsov was playing dangerous tennis. He hit 46 winners to Monfils’ 44, but critically, also amassed 54 unforced errors to 32.
Monfils acknowledged his serve was the difference against Kuznetsov: “I think I focused great on my serve. I needed to because he was playing very good.
“I’ve had a good first week here – I just hope I can have a wonderful second week too.”
Monfils will play the winner of No.4 seed Stan Wawrinka and No.13 seed Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals.