Gael Monfils

Djokovic beats Monfils to claim second title of season

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EASTBOURNE, England (AP) Novak Djokovic won his second title of 2017 on Saturday as he cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Gael Monfils in the Eastbourne International final.

The Serb remained unbeaten against Monfils on the ATP tour as he extended his head-to-head advantage over the Frenchman to 14-0 in one hour and 16 minutes.

Having ended a trophy-drought stretching back to the Qatar Open in January, Djokovic will begin his Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday full of confidence.

Earlier Saturday, third-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-4, 6-4 to win the women’s event on England’s south coast.

Monfils’s attempt to end his losing streak against the world No. 4 was quickly blunted as he dropped serve in the opening game, before being broken again in the final game of the first set.

Despite his renowned retrieval skills, Monfils was unable to impose his return game as Djokovic made 87 per cent of his first serves during the opening set.

Monfils emerged with renewed intent for the second set, but Djokovic was able to summon the grit that has so often been lacking this season as he fought off three break points.

Equally familiar was the sight of Djokovic increasing his intensity as Monfils served to stay in the match at 4-5, taking victory at the first opportunity.

Pliskova claimed her third title of 2017 and ninth overall as she broke once in each set to defeat 2009 champion Wozniacki.

The Czech was a beaten finalist in this tournament on England’s south coast last year, losing to Dominika Cibulkova.

“I’m really happy I got the trophy this time,” Pliskova said. “I feel quite okay on grass … The serve is definitely my biggest weapon and, if it’s working, then it’s real trouble for the opponent.”

Sixth-seeded Wozniacki had her only break points of the match in the sixth game of the second set but let four opportunities slip by.

“I thought I played really well, I did what I could today,” Wozniacki said. “I had trouble getting the serves back, but it’s great preparation before Wimbledon.”

Fall in rankings has Federer seeded 17th at Aussie Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — A long injury layoff and a fall in the rankings have created a tough draw for 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer at the Australian Open.

Federer slipped to No. 17 in the rankings this week after Grigor Dimitrov won the Brisbane International and moved up to No. 15.

The Australian Open tends to stick with the rankings when its seeds 32 players in each of the men’s and women’s 128-player singles draws, meaning the 35-year-old Federer gets less protection than usual and could potentially face a top 10 player as soon as the third round.

The seedings were confirmed by Australian Open organizers on Thursday, on the eve of the draw for the season-opening major which begins Monday in Melbourne.

Federer has won the Australian Open four times, his first in 2004, and also reached the final in 2009, but he hasn’t won the title here since 2010.

He spent six months out of action last year following surgery on his left knee and finished 2016 at No. 16, ending a year in which his record run of 65 Grand Slam appearances ended when he couldn’t contest the French Open. He also missed the U.S. Open.

He returned to action at the international mixed teams exhibition at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week.

As expected, No. 1-ranked Andy Murray is the top seed ahead of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the men’s draw and Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian and U.S. Open champion, is the top seed in the women’s draw ahead of six-time champion Serena Williams, who is seeded No. 2.

Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic is No. 3 in the men’s seedings, and U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych round out the top 10.

Nishikori, who lost the Brisbane final in three sets to Dimitrov last Sunday, said having Federer sitting lower in the list of seeds was bad for his rivals but good for the event.

“It’s not the best news for us, for sure. It’s a bit tough,” he said Thursday. “Rafa is also No. 9. We might have to play Rafa and Roger really soon in the draw.

“It’s not the best if you play, but it’s great for the fans.”

Following Kerber and Williams in the list of top 10 women’s seeds are Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Johanna Konta and Carla Suarez Navarro.

After odd win, Djokovic to face Wawrinka in US Open final

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NEW YORK — For quite a while, Novak Djokovic’s opponent in the U.S. Open semifinals, Gael Monfils, looked as if he didn’t want to win – or even be there at all.

That premeditated “great strategy” of hoping to lull the No. 1 seed and defending champion into complacency and mistakes, as Monfils described it later, worked briefly, yet did not prevent a two-set deficit. So he transformed back into his entertaining, athletic self. A sweat-soaked Djokovic sought help from a trainer for aches in both shoulders, and what was no contest suddenly became one.

Monfils forced a fourth set, and Djokovic ripped off his white shirt angrily a la “The Incredible Hulk.”

The ultimate outcome was only briefly in the balance, though. Djokovic regained the upper hand, as he so often does, reaching his 21st Grand Slam final and seventh at the U.S. Open with an eventful and, at times, bizarre 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Monfils on Friday.

“Well, it was a strange match,” said Djokovic, who will face No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final, “as it always is, I guess, when you play Gael, who is a very unpredictable player.”

Never more so than on this muggy afternoon, with the temperature at 90 degrees and the humidity above 50 percent. Monfils, now 0-13 against Djokovic, spent most of his news conference defending his unusual approach and said he knew beforehand he might try it.

On ESPN’s telecast, John McEnroe blasted the 10th-seeded Frenchman for lack of effort. The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd jeered him.

“First question is, like, `You’re not competing?’ … Yes, I’m competing,” Monfils said, cursing for emphasis. “I made a sign to my coach (to) say, `OK, I’m going to Plan B.”‘

Djokovic had three set points while serving at 5-1, 40-love, and Monfils transitioned into something that at first blush appeared to be “tanking” – losing on purpose, for who knows what reason – but which he explained afterward was the tennis equivalent of Muhammad Ali’s boxing “rope-a-dope,” absorbing someone else’s best shots and pretending to not be interested in attacking.

Instead of his usual crouch preparing to return serves, Monfils casually stood upright at the baseline, without a worry in the world, looking like someone waiting to place his takeout espresso order. During points, Monfils would hit slices or make halfhearted, half-swinging strokes, then occasionally wallop a 100 mph passing shot.

“For sure, people are not really ready to see that,” Monfils said. “Definitely, I try to get in his head, try to create something new for him to see.”

Somehow, the tactic was effective, for a short while, anyway.

“I was completely caught off-guard,” Djokovic acknowledged.

Miscue after miscue arrived from Djokovic, and Monfils won three games in a row, before eventually dropping a set for the first time all tournament.

“I thought, at times, that he was maybe behaving a little bit – for some terms and judgments – unacceptable,” Djokovic said. “But I guess that was part of his tactics. If he said that you have to believe him, I guess.”

Djokovic will try for his third U.S. Open championship and 13th major trophy overall against Wawrinka, whose first final at Flushing Meadows came via a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 6 Kei Nishikori that lasted more than 3 hours and finished with the roof shut. Djokovic has won 19 of 23 previous meetings, but Wawrinka did win their 2015 French Open final for his second Grand Slam title.

Wawrinka was down a set and a break against Nishikori, who eventually faded in the heat and mugginess. Wawrinka got so sweaty his racket flew out of his hand on one point, but he seemed to grow sturdier as the match wore on.

At the start, Wawrinka said, Nishikori “was always dictating. I was feeling uncomfortable on the court. He was coming at the net. … I just tried to, little by little, play a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit heavier. I tried to make him run.”

Wawrinka has spent nearly twice as long on court as Djokovic has so far: a little under 18 hours vs. a little under 9 hours.

That’s because Djokovic enjoyed the easiest path to a major semifinal in the nearly half-century of the Open era: Three of his first five foes pulled out of because of injuries. Then came this 2 1/2-hour miniseries, topping them all for oddness.

In the second set, Monfils lost five consecutive games, and limped afterward. Soon, Djokovic led 2-0 in the third, breaking on a double-fault that drew boos and whistles. All over but the shouting, right? Nope. In a blink, Monfils awoke.

Hours before the match, Djokovic clutched at his back during a practice session in Ashe. Behind 5-2 in the third, Djokovic got his left shoulder massaged. Later, it was time for help with the right shoulder. Asked what health worries he might have, Djokovic replied, “Thankfully, it’s behind me. So I don’t have any concerns.”

In the late going, Monfils was leaning on his racket between points. More examples of playing possum? Perhaps. But Djokovic showed his own signs of distress in the tough conditions.

After all of that, Djokovic plays Sunday for his third Grand Slam championship of 2016. He won the Australian Open in January, and the French Open in June – when the theatrics were at a relative minimum by Friday’s standards.