Seventh-seeded Andy Murray's roller-coaster ride at the 2014 French Open continued Wednesday as he defeated No. 23 Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 to reach the semifinals in perhaps the wildest manner imaginable.
In addition to beating Monfils, Murray beat the sunset as his complete demolition of the Frenchman prevented the match from having to be resumed Thursday.
The start of the match was delayed due to a long rain delay, but in the end Murray survived by hook or by crook and improved his excellent record in five-set matches, according to BBC Sport:
Murray has done it. 2140 local time. He's won 14 of his last 16 5 set matches. pic.twitter.com/sfxPHwW7Nz— BBC Tennis (@bbctennis) June 4, 2014
Murray entered the quarterfinal match with a career record of 3-2 against Monfils. They hadn't played each other at all since 2010 and they hadn't played each other on clay since way back in 2006 when Monfils defeated Murray in the first round at the French Open.
Both players have changed a lot since then as Murray is now a two-time Grand Slam champion, but he certainly knew what to expect out of a pesky opponent like Monfils, per ATPWorldTour.com.
"It's going to be an exciting match," Murray said. "I'm sure there will be some fun rallies. There always is when I have played against him. We haven't played against each other for quite a while, so I'm looking forward to it."
In addition to dealing with a frustrating opponent in the form of Monfils, there were other factors working against Murray as well.
Not surprisingly, Murray had to combat the crowd as the Paris faithful were firmly behind the Frenchman, according to Neil Harman of The Times:
The entry of the gladiators. Monfils to huge applause. Murray to a few jeers— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 4, 2014
That didn't appear to bother Murray one bit in the early going, though, as he came out of the gates firing. After holding serve to start the match, Murray earned a quick break of Monfils to take a 2-0 advantage, per BBC Sport:
After falling behind 3-0, however, Monfils finally came to life. The fan favorite finally got on the board with a hold of serve and he followed that up with his first break of the match. After consolidating that with his second hold, Monfils and Murray were suddenly on level terms.
Murray and Monfils proceeded to trade holds and Murray ultimately took the lead on serve to go up 5-4. That put the proverbial ball in Monfils' court as he needed to hold once again in order to extend the first set.
Monfils saved one break point and forced deuce, but Murray proved to be too much. An extremely long and entertaining rally occurred on the second set point, but this time Murray was able to win the game of cat and mouse and the first set in the process, according to BBC's Piers Newbery:
Murray wins the 1st set 6-4 after a long, cagey rally, the kind that will suit him more. A few heading for the sortie http://t.co/x8Zx17Q25v— Piers Newbery (@piersnewbery) June 4, 2014
The second set started off very much like the first. Murray held serve in the first game and broke Monfils immediately after for the second time in the match, per Dan King of The Sun:
And there it is. Murray breaks early again and will serve at 2-0 in the second.— Dan King (@DanKing_1974) June 4, 2014
Monfils failed to mount any type of comeback or challenge this time, however, as Murray took firm control of the set. He reeled off five consecutive games to begin the set before Monfils was finally able to hold serve and get on the scoreboard.
As dynamic and exciting as Monfils can be, lapses in concentration and effort have plagued him throughout his career. Monfils seemed to mentally check out during the second set, which prompted Rob Koenig of Tennis Channel to question his work ethic:
Murray v Monfils is a good example that "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard.." And I mean overall in their careers.— Rob Koenig (@RobKoenigTennis) June 4, 2014
With Murray in firm control, Andy's brother, Jamie, chimed in and suggested that the only way his brother could lose is if he found a way to beat himself:
With the way these guys have set up to play this match - I can't see Andy losing. Unless he self implodes.— Jamie Murray (@jamie_murray) June 4, 2014
The first six games of the set were fairly straightforward with Murray steamrolling toward a two-set lead, but things finally got interesting with Murray serving for the set at 5-1.
Not only was the game lengthy as Monfils fought off multiple set points, but it was also controversial. One point was interrupted when a ball fell out of Murray's pocket, according to Harman:
Ball falls out of Murray's pocket at deuce. Monfils angry. Crowd jeering. Umpire down from chair— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 4, 2014
Murray hit a return into the net immediately after that, which caused Monfils to complain. It was initially ruled that the point would be replayed, but after Murray, Monfils and the umpire had an animated discussion, Monfils was awarded the point.
In what some might consider a just turn of events, Murray staved off the break point and finally went on to win the set after several attempts, per Tennis.com:
On his eighth set point, Andy Murray takes a two-set lead over Gael Monfils #RG14— TENNIS.com (@Tennis) June 4, 2014
Although Monfils would have a long and arduous climb ahead of him in terms of a comeback, he got the third set started off much more positively with a hold of serve. He then seemingly had Murray on the ropes with three break points, but Murray stormed back to hold in spectacular fashion:
Murray holds from 0-40 down. One of the best I've ever seen from that position [which he shouldn't have been in BTW]— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 4, 2014
Monfils was quite demonstrative throughout the game, which led renowned South African radio host Redi Tlhabi to suggest that Monfils got what was coming to him by dropping the game:
See Montfils? Screaming when it was 0-15, going on to 0-40 just to lose game to a serving Murray..who quietly moved on to next game! Learn!!— Redi Tlhabi (@RediTlhabi) June 4, 2014
Murray and Monfils continued to trade holds throughout the set, which resulted in Monfils holding a 5-4 lead. Murray fought off two set points and earned a game point of his own, but Monfils finally showed some push-back by forcing deuce.
Monfils was eventually able to break Murray, win the set and shockingly force a fourth set after seemingly being dead in the water. After converting on that break point, Monfils whipped the Court Philippe Chatrier spectators into a frenzy, according to ESPN Tennis:
With the Parisian crowd loudly behind him, Monfils breaks Murray to force a fourth set. pic.twitter.com/AlxddA7RT6— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) June 4, 2014
Losing that set clearly had a negative effect on Murray's psyche has he entered the fourth set without much energy. Monfils had all the confidence in the world with the crowd firmly on his side and it showed.
Following a pair of holds, Monfils took a stranglehold on the fourth set. He held for a second time to go up 2-1 and then came through with a massive break of Murray's serve. As described by SI.com's Beyond The Baseline, Murray appeared beaten down:
As Chatrier erupts in a Seven Nation Army chant, Gael Monfils breaks to 3-1 in the fourth. Murray completely flat. #RG14— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) June 4, 2014
Monfils consolidated that break with a hold to take a commanding 4-1 lead in the set. He then followed that up with another break against the demoralized Murray. With sunset approaching, King suggested that Murray needed a break of his own to prolong things a bit:
Double break for Monfils and he will serve for the fourth set at 5-1. Murray needs to consolidate now and take this match into another day.— Dan King (@DanKing_1974) June 4, 2014
That didn't happen as Monfils won the set 6-1 in convincing fashion. There was still some daylight remaining, but the prevailing thought was that the referee might decide to suspend play so that they could start anew with the fifth set on Thursday.
Since Monfils had all the momentum, Murray lobbied with the official to suspend play and made his case, but he was overruled. After the referee determined that play would continue, Murray was unconscionable, according to Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal:
Murray upon being told play will continue: "It's ridiculous."— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 4, 2014
The continuation certainly seemed to favor Monfils with the fans on his side, especially considering his fine career record in five-set matches, per Josh Meiseles of ATPWorldTour.com:
Worth noting Monfils is 8-2 in five-setters at Roland Garros. Lone two-set comeback in career was vs. De Bakker (AO 2011).— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) June 4, 2014
Despite that, Murray was able to dust himself off and flip the script once again. After converting an incredibly important hold of serve to start the set, Murray then pulled a break out of his hat to go up 2-0.
ESPN's Chris Fowler pointed out that Murray and Monfils appeared to be baiting each other into thinking the other was down and out throughout the match:
Two opossums playing on Chartrier. Murray looked dead, wanted to stop. It was a bluff. @darren_cahill called it.— Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) June 4, 2014
Murray then jumped out to a 40-0 lead on Monfils' serve, and while Monfils was able to save two of the three break points, he missed a forehand long, which gave Murray a huge 4-0 advantage.
Since the Brit had won those four games so quickly, the match continued. Murray once again held to take a 5-0 lead and put an exclamation point on the triumph with his third break of Monfils in the set.
In what can only be described as a shocking turn of events, Murray went from begging to have play suspended to celebrating a victory in 24 minutes.
Murray's win over Monfils was somewhat reminiscent of his marathon match against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round. He was ultimately able to come out on top Wednesday, but there are plenty of question marks surrounding Murray's game.
This marks Murray's second career French Open semifinal, but he has never reached the final at Roland Garros. He has won both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon and reached the final on three occasions at the Australian Open, so Paris has been his kryptonite in many ways.
In order to achieve that elusive final appearance, though, Murray will have to beat world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
How will Murray fare at the 2014 French Open?
Murray will be a fairly substantial underdog against Nadal since Rafa has won eight French Open titles, but Murray did play him tough recently. He pushed Nadal to a third set at the Rome Masters, so he may have confidence on his side against the king of clay.
Based on Murray's penchant for allowing opponents to hang around and his inability to finish matches, Nadal promises to be an extremely difficult challenge.
A match with either No. 2 Novak Djokovic or Ernests Gulbis would loom in the final, but that shouldn't even be on Murray's radar at this point. Facing Nadal will have all the intensity of a final, so Murray must be solely focused on that.
Clay is quite clearly Murray's worst surface, but he isn't incompetent on it by any means. He has enough talent and polish to push guys like Nadal and Djokovic, but there is no doubt that he is only the No. 3 choice to win the tournament at this point.
Murray is most definitely among the elite players in tennis, however, and he can truly cement that status with a surprise title at Roland Garros.
If he plays like he did against Monfils, though, he won't last beyond the semis.
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