In an all-French battle, the eternal entertainer Gael Monfils begins his 12th bid for Roland Garros glory against his 19-year-old compatriot Elliot Benchetrit. Monfils made a run to the French Open semifinals in 2008, losing in four sets to Roger Federer, and has made three further quarterfinals since, but ultimate glory has always eluded him. Benchetrit has never before played at Tour-level, but could rise to immediate fame with a win here. Who will come out on top?
Unsurprisingly given the fact that Benchetrit has never before played a Tour-level match, he and Monfils have never met before. The two men have vastly different levels of experience, with Monfils, who has been as high as world #6, twice a Slam semifinalist and a seven-time champion at Tour-level. Benchetrit has not yet broken the top 300, and has just $37k in career prize money, compared with Monfils who has earned over $14 million in a career that has seen him win 425 matches at Tour-level.
Last time out
After a great 2016 which saw Monfils finish in the year-end top eight for the first time in his career, 2017 was a year of major frustration for the Frenchman, who did not pick up a racquet again after retiring in the third round of the US Open. This season the Frenchman has been working towards returning to the peak of his powers, but results have been mixed for him. He comes into Paris on the back of a three-match losing streak, with a defeat at the hands of Marterer in the first round in Lyon doubtless a source of real frustration for ‘La Monf’.
Benchetrit has spent the last few months of his tennis career playing principally at Challenger-level, although he has had to go through the qualifying at most events. He did so recently in Francavilla in Italy, in Ostrava in the Czech Republic, and in Bordeaux where he impressively battled through to the quarterfinals after coming through the qualifying. There he was defeated in straight sets by his countryman Gregoire Barrere, but it is surely a run from which he can draw confidence ahead of the biggest match of his nascent career.
How do they match up?
Monfils remains one of the most natural athletes in the tennis world despite now being on the far side of his 30th birthday. If there is a player that covers the court faster than the Frenchman, it cannot be by much. He also possesses a devastatingly powerful forehand when he wants it. However, Monfils’ footwork can at times be suspect, and he often chooses shots that, though thrilling to the crowd, complicate his ultimate objective of winning a tennis match.
Benchetrit looks to be a solid baseliner, and recently scored an impressive win over Nicolas Mahut, who is a multiple-Slam champion in doubles and has been ranked as high as world #37 in singles. Benchetrit returns well generally, and showed impressive feel in the forecourt to get past the wily Mahut. But, he has no real experience of competing against a player of Monfils quality nor of playing on a major show court like Suzanne Lenglen, which will host this clash. How that affects him could well be crucial, but will remain an unknown until the match begins.
Not unlike his fellow wildcard, Maxime Janvier who takes on Kei Nishikori in first round action elsewhere, this is a huge step up for Benchetrit and one he seems unlikely to take successfully at the first time of asking. Monfils, for all his flair, is an excellent player who has spent nearly all of his career inside the top 50, and much of it even higher. For Benchetrit to defeat him in his first Tour-level match seems unlikely indeed. Monfils in straight sets.