|Gael Monfils celebrates after defeating Roger Federer in Shanghai, China, Thursday. (AP-Yonhap News)|
SHANGHAI ― As if one loss wasn’t bad enough, Roger Federer was defeated in the third-round singles and second-round doubles back to back on Thursday at the Shanghai Rolex Masters, both in three sets.
The whole stadium seemed to be rooting for the world No. 7 ― dubbed the “icon” of this tournament ― but underdog No. 42 Gael Monfils said that didn’t faze him, outplaying the fifth-seeded Swiss icon, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, for his second win in their eight head-to-heads. Though Federer bounced back from a 3-5 deficit in the second set to edge him out in a tiebreak, the Frenchman kept the upper hand throughout, hitting 15 aces to Federer’s three, saving four of five break points and winning three of his 10.
“It was easy what happened. ... I was tired, so I tried to play more aggressive sometimes, go more for my shots and it worked,” Monfils said of his singles victory, which propelled him into the quarterfinal to take on top-seeded, world No. 2 Novak Djokovic.
Monfils said nervousness may have caused him to choke in the second set, but he was surprised that Federer wasn’t taking risks with his signature game-ending forehand.
“He used to play aggressive and maybe miss a bit less. Maybe I took a bit advantage of this. I know he will try and go for his shot, but maybe he is a bit less confident,” he added.
Federer knew the matchup would be tough, having lost to Monfils in the 2010 Paris Masters semifinals under similarly quick conditions, he noted. He said he was lucky to survive the second set, but that Monfils was the kind of guy who can “serve his way out of trouble.”
“It’s a bit of an up-and-down performance for me. I think the beginning, where I got broken (in) the first game, sort of hurt me. Then he did a good job of serving,” he said. “It was just close all the way through, you know. So it was a tough loss at the end.”
Less than an hour later, he was back on court outdoors alongside doubles teammate Zhang Ze ― China’s No. 1 male player ― against Croatian Ivan Dodig and Brazilian Marcelo Melo, but seemed unable to shake off his recent defeat. The duo, both coming off singles losses, brought back some of their first-round doubles luster into the second set, but the neck-and-neck tie-breaker ended with Federer’s error into the net, 6-1, 1-6, 10-8.
The losses highlighted Federer’s not-so-spectacular ― by his own standards ― season, with a 35-12 record and a single title, that has led some in the tennis world to speculate whether he will ever win another Grand Slam.
But his peers say he’s still a threat, and always will be.
“A lot of people say, like, it’s not the same Rog because he’s got two other great players (ranking above) him, Novak and Rafa (Nadal, world No. 1),” Monfils said. “But when he’s on the court, he’s still Roger. He can rip it from anywhere. He can do stuff that not many players can do.”
Djokovic said Federer has not dominated the game for more than a year the way he consistently did in his heyday 7-8 years ago, but that it’s “definitely worth listening” if he says he is set to make a comeback.
“He’s a 17-time Grand Slam winner, one of the best players in the history of the game,” Djokovic added. “Whenever he plays, wherever he plays, he’s always in the spotlight, he’s always the man to beat. This is fact, and it’s going to stay that way as long as he’s going to play tennis.”
Federer is now focusing on the Basel 500 and Paris 1000 later this month, which could give him a boost to qualify for the year-end ATP Final in London. He said although his falling rank might mean tougher draws in the future, it’s “important not to worry too much” about it.
“It’s pretty simple: You just keep on working hard, make sure that you get back on winning ways, then you become confident again,” he said.
“I can still finish strong. I believe that. There’s not much time left,” he added. “I usually play well indoors, so I hope this year’s going to be one of those years again.”
By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent