Nadal of Spain reacts after his semi-final match against Monfils of France during the ATP Qatar Open tennis tournament in Doha
Monfils, 25, was unfazed by Nadal’s 8-1 winning record against him and looked the hungrier player, especially in a mesmerising second set.
Nadal, stung from losing the opening set, surged into a 4-1 lead, and the match appeared to be heading to a decider.
Yet Monfils came again, making 18 consecutive first serves. A long forehand from Nadal gave the gangly Frenchman two break points and he took the first with a stinging cross-court drive to make it 3-4.
Nadal, 25, had a chance to redeem himself, earning an immediate break opportunity with a volley winner from the net.
The top seed’s next return appeared out and Monfils paused, waiting for the call. When this did not come, the Frenchman clipped a shot over and a confused Nadal missed his.
Monfils went on to hold for 4-4 and Nadal still seemed preoccupied as he served again, slipping 40-0 down following two mistakes and another blistering forehand winner from the pumped-up Frenchman.
Monfils, who has slipped to 16th in the world from seventh in September, then drew the left-hander out wide and came to the net to play a volley winner and earn the chance to serve for the match.
The world number two saved two match points, but Monfils set up a third opportunity with a whipped winner down the line. A Nadal error then gave him the match.
“Against Rafa, you have to have a good (first serve) percentage,” said Monfils in an on-court interview. “I was very fast on court and I think I hit a couple of powerful shots. I feel great.”
The players’ speed around the court created many long rallies, yet serve remained dominant, with no break points in the opening five games.
Nadal then slipped when he came to the net while serving at 40-30. Off-balance, he could only put a cushioned volley wide. The Spaniard then placed an angled forehand wide to give Monfils a break chance.
Nadal missed his first serve and after exchanging shots Monfils hit a searing forehand down the line to break, screaming in triumph as he took a 4-2 lead.
Serving for the set, Monfils fell 30-0 behind but recovered with two un-returnable serves and a flat backhand winner to give him a set point.
After missing the first with a wide forehand, Monfils launched a curling second serve away from Nadal and ambled to the net to put away a volley for a second set point.
He did not fail this time, dispatching an ace.
Monfils will now play his friend Tsonga, who received a bye into the final after Federer withdrew.
“It’s always tough to play against Jo because he’s really powerful,” said Monfils. “It’s tough to manipulate him from the baseline.”
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