Nitto ATP Finals hopefuls, Gael Monfils and Diego Schwartzman go head-to-head on Saturday as they attempt to reach the Vienna final and boost their chances of qualifying for the season-ending showpiece in London.
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Both Monfils and Schwartzman recovered from slow starts on Friday to secure quarter final victories over Aljaz Bedene and Karen Khachanov respectively, and set up a fourth career meeting between the duo.
Monfils dropped his serve in the opening game of his match against Bedene, and had to fend off a couple more break points at 1-3 to avoid going a double break down in the opening set, but the Frenchman began to turn the tide after that escape, breaking back in the next game off a Bedene double fault.
Monfils got better and better as the match progressed, cracking the match open with a five-game run that saw him take the first set, and open up a 3-0 lead in the second. There was no catching him from there, as he sped to a 7-5 6-1 victory over the Slovenian. Monfils improves to tenth on the ATP’s Race to London, 310 points behind fellow Vienna semi-finalist, Matteo Berrettini, who currently sits in the eighth and final qualifying spot for the Nitto ATP Finals, with the Paris Masters still to come next week.
Monfils is looking to reach the Nitto ATP Finals for the second time in his career, having also qualified in 2016- his career-best year so far. The 33-year-old peaked at No. 6 that year, but he struggled with injuries in the following season, as was down at 46th by the end of 2017. He got up to 29th at the end of 2018, and has continued to rise in 2019, reaching as high as 11th in the world. Monfils is currently ranked 14th, following a season that has yielded a title in Rotterdam, semi-finals in Sofia, Dubai and Montreal and quarter finals at Indian Wells, the US Open, Estoril and Zhuhai.
He’s not only looking to reach his second final of the season in Vienna, but also a second final at the tournament, having finished runner-up to Philipp Kohlschreiber way back in 2008. He has already beaten Denis Novak, Jannik Sinner and Bedene this week, but he faces arguably his toughest test yet on Saturday as he confronts the tenacious Diego Schwartzman.
Monfils was slow off the blocks against Bedene, but Schwartzman was even slower in his match against Khachanov, making a flurry of unforced errors as he slipped to a 0-3 double break deficit against the powerful Russian.
The set looked seemingly out of Schwartzman’s reach, but the Argentine has carved a career out of an incredible fighting spirit, and it was all on show on Friday as he carved out an unlikely route back into the opening set. Cutting down the unforced errors, Schwartzman’s mobility, touch and baseline aggression began to cause serious problems for Khachanov, and the Argentine got one of the break backs for 1-3, before grabbing the second break when his Russian opponent served for the set at 5-4. Khachanov saved two set points from 4-6 in the ensuing tie break, but Schwartzman would not be denied, converting a third set point to complete a brilliant fightback.
The world No. 15 forced an early break in the opening game of the second set, converting a fifth break point of the game to ram home his advantage, and he turned it on from there, purring over the line with some sublime tennis. He’s helped himself to 14th in the Race to London, 665 points behind eighth-placed Berrettini, retaining an outside chance of getting into the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time.
“It was really difficult in the beginning; I didn’t feel very well. He was playing good tennis, but I think I was doing many mistakes and many unforced errors,” said Schwartzman of his win over Khachanov.
“I started to change my game and then I had one break back at 3-0… I was just one break down and when he was serving for the set I had a little bit of luck in a few points and I did the comeback. In the second set, I think my tennis was better than his and I felt really well at the end.”
Schwartzman arrived Vienna on a three-match losing streak, but he’s found some decent form this week, beating Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Sam Querrey and now, Khachanov to advance to his fifth semi-final of the season. He already has a title from Los Cabos, while he was a beaten finalist in Buenos Aires earlier in the year. His other semi-finals were in Sydney and Rome, while he made a noteworthy quarter final at the US Open.
Schwartzman faces Monfils for the fourth time on Saturday, with the Argentine looking to even the series, having won just one of the previous three encounters. That victory came on the clay of Rio in 2018- 6-3 6-4- while Monfils won by an identical scoreline later that year in Antwerp in their only previous encounter on hard courts. Monfils had earlier scored a five-set win at Roland Garros in 2015.
It’s a battle between two terrific athletes, and if they both play their best on Saturday, it will be a riveting contest. Monfils is the man with the bigger weapons- especially with the serve, where he owns a clear advantage- even though he doesn’t always use the full artillery, settling instead into a more counter-punching mode. I think he will need to be more aggressive on Saturday, because the dynamic Schwartzman can stick with the Frenchman in defence, while looking to take the game on at every opportunity with his penetrative offence.
Gael Monfils vs Diego Schwartzman is live from Vienna on Saturday, 26 October from 3:00pm local time/ 2:00pm BST