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Federer goes into 'panic mode' to save match points and beat Monfils in Madrid

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 9 May 2019
  • Roger Federer has to save two match points against Gael Monfils
  • Federer admitted going into 'panic mode' to get the 6-0, 4-6, 7-6(3) win
  • Dominic Thiem awaits in the quarterfinals
Roger Federer celebrates beating Gael Monfils at the Madrid Masters (PA Sport)

Roger Federer goes into 'panic mode' to save two match points against Gael Monfils.

Facing the first real challenge of his return to clay-court tennis, Roger Federer admitted going into 'panic mode' to survive a three-set battle with Gael Monfils at the Madrid Masters.

The victory, which put Federer into the quarterfinals in Madrid to face Dominic Thiem, was the 1,200th match win of Federer's career; he is just the second player in history to achieve that total after Jimmy Connors.

But the 37-year-old is likely to be much more excited about getting a gritty win over a quality opponent in just his second match on clay courts for almost three years.

Federer in action against Monfils (PA Sport)
Federer hasn't played the Madrid Masters since 2015, only played two clay-court tournaments in 2016 and skipped this part of the season entirely in 2017 and 2018 to concentrate his efforts elsewhere in the wake of knee surgery in 2016. 

But the 20-time Grand Slam champion decided to play Madrid and the French Open in 2019 and the anticipation for his return was intense, only to be dampened slightly when Federer glided through a 6-2, 6-3 victory over an out-of-form Richard Gasquet without breaking a sweat.

Things were much more entertaining against another French veteran, Gael Monfils, on Thursday. Monfils barely showed up for the opening set, which Federer breezed through 6-0 in less than 20 minutes, winning 25 of the 34 points played. But Monfils switched on his shot-making self in the second set, breaking to lead 3-0. Consecutive double faults from Monfils helped Federer break back and, having been down 1-4, he had a break point at 4-4 which would have seen him serve for the match - but Monfils saved it, and went on to break Federer in the next game to level up at one set all.

In the decider, Monfils once again led 3-0 before Federer got back on serve and the French player earned two match points at 5-6, staved off by Federer - the first with a serve-and-volley on second serve.

'I just felt like not so confident to win the point from the baseline, so I said panic mode is switched on and we are coming in,' Federer said afterwards.

‘Regardless of how and what and when, there was no more tactics except to serve it to the forehand to mix it up and you go to the net as quick as possible so you are as close as possible and I framed the first volley, which ended up being perfect. 

‘I just kept on believing, fighting, hoping that something could maybe go my way, and it did. So, I also needed a bit of luck at the end and a bit of inspired tennis, I guess, to some extent, and it all worked out and I played a good breaker, so that was nice. So, I’m very happy.’

In the tie-break, it was Federer's turn to take a 3-0 lead and he never surrendered the advantage, closing out the win in 123 minutes to improve to 10-3 vs Monfils.

Gael Monfils (PA Sport)
Federer now faces another tough opponent in the form of Dominic Thiem, the fifth seed who beat him in the final of the Indian Wells Masters in March and has emerged as one of the world's best players on clay over the past few years. Thiem was a finalist at the Madrid Masters for the past two years as well as finishing runner-up to Rafael Nadal in last year's French Open, and has already scored a win over Nadal on his way to claiming the Barcelona Open title in 2019. He defeated Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters champion Fabio Fognini 6-4, 7-5 to book his place in the quarterfinals in Madrid.

'He is not just going to go through a match on clay where he is not going to hit a ball into the court. That might happen sometimes on a really fast court and he might struggle a bit more if you are able to press and put him under pressure all the time,' Federer said of Thiem

‘On clay, you would think that that is not going to happen so I have to come up with the goods there so he’s definitely a great test, like Monfils was early in the clay court season for me, still knowing that Madrid plays very different to the French Open. 

‘But Thiem has been playing great. Recently, winning Barcelona and also Indian Wells. I also saw what he could do on the slower, harder courts, not that I needed him to prove his point. But I think beating Rafa [Nadal] in Barcelona is a feat in itself. I still believe that Rafa is the measuring stick and not Dominic. But we will see how it all plays out.'

Federer is joined in the Madrid Masters quarterfinals by world no. 1 Novak Djokovic, who faces Marin Cilic; 11-time French Open champion Nadal, who will take on former French Open champion Stan Wawrinka; and defending champion Alexander Zverev, who takes on fellow young talent Stefanos Tsitsipas.

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Federer goes into 'panic mode' to save match points and beat Monfils in Madrid

Roger Federer faced the first real challenge of his return to clay-court tennis at the 2019 Madrid Masters as he had to save two match points on the way to beating Gael Monfils 6-0, 4-6, 7-6(3), setting up a quarterfinal clash with Dominic Thiem

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