London hopeful Gael Monfils aims to avenge his loss to teenage sensation Jannik Sinner when the pair battle it out for a place in the Erste Bank Open quarter-finals on Thursday night.
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Gael Monfils suffered a shock loss to 18-year-old Jannik Sinner last week in Antwerp – can the Frenchman claim his revenge when he meets the rising Italian for the second week in a row for a spot in the Vienna quarter-finals on Thursday?
Still in the hunt for a spot at the ATP Finals, but behind the likes of Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, Roberto Bautista Agut, David Goffin and Fabio Fognini in the race for one of the last two tickets to London, Monfils produced a fighting comeback in his Vienna opener against wildcard Dennis Novak, recovering from a set down to emerge triumphant by a 2-6 7-5 6-3 scoreline, firing 13 aces and converting all three break points he created.
Despite last week’s disappointing defeat to Sinner, Monfils is quietly enjoying a fantastic season, despite dealing with some injury issues at times, compiling a 33-16 record in winning one of the biggest titles of his career at the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam, beating Daniil Medvedev and Stan Wawrinka back-to-back, making semi-finals in Sofia, Dubai and Canada Masters and reaching the quarter-finals in Indian Wells and the U.S. Open, along with a fourth round finish at Roland Garros.
After some injury-riddled 2017 and 2018 seasons, Monfils is back playing the kind of tennis that saw him rise to No. 6 in the world during his career-best 2016 season, where he made the U.S. Open semi-finals and won the ATP 500 Citi Open in Washington D.C., qualifying for the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. Can he do it for the second time in 2019? He most likely will need the title in Vienna and a big run at the Paris Masters, something he’s certainly capable of conjuring up if he plays his best tennis.
But before he can think of any potential last-minute London qualification, Monfils needs to find a way to beat the young gun who got the better of him last week in Vienna.
Jannik Sinner is undoubtedly one of the brightest young prospects in tennis and the Italian is continuing to impress as the season goes on, backing up his semi-final run in Antwerp – where he became the youngest ATP semi-finalist since 2014 – by registering a 6-3 6-4 victory over German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber earlier in the week.
A former national skiing champion back in 2008 and a runner-up in 2012, Sinner – who hails from the duo-language region of South Tyrol in northwest Italy (the same city as veteran countryman Andreas Seppi) – decided to pursue professional tennis in 2010 after initially quitting the sport a year earlier, and it’s safe to say he’s made the right choice. Linking up with respected coach Riccardo Piatti at the age of 14, Sinner has swiftly risen through the ranks, making his first Futures final in Santa Cristina val Gardena last year, but it’s been this season where the 18-year-old has shot up the rankings, becoming the youngest Italian Challenger champion in history when he won in Bergamo in February as a 17-year-old, while he also took home two consecutive Futures titles in Trento and Santa Margherita Di Pula as he put together a 16-match winning streak.
Sinner would make his ATP debut as a lucky loser in Budapest, making the second round, and also won his maiden Masters 1000 match in Rome over Steve Johnson, while he’s also qualified at Lyon, s-Hertogenbosch and the U.S. Open, where he won a set off Stan Wawrinka in the opening round. The Italian also added another Challenger title in Lexington to his mantlepiece before reaching his first ATP semi-final in Antwerp last week, earning a career-best win over No. 13 Monfils before going down to Wawrinka.
With last week still firmly in both players’ minds, can Sinner produce the upset once more? It’s certainly possible – the Italian is blessed with a fantastic all-court game, but he’s never played so much tennis in a row at this level before. Monfils is never reliable, but surely he would have learned from last week – and with ATP Finals qualification still a possibility, the Frenchman needs to dig deep and produce a disciplined display. If he does that, Monfils should be making the quarter-finals.