Gael Monfils Wins First Citi Open and First ATP 500

By Jane Voigt

Washington D. C., July 24, 2016 — If sport is entertainment, then sweat-soaked fans inside Stadium Court got their money’s worth as the obvious favorite Gael Monfils dug himself out of what looked like yet another loss in a final to grab his first Citi Open title and first ATP 500 event. 

“I’m happy,” Monfils began. “I’m very happy.”

IMG 1935

Gael Monfils takes a moment to sign the trophy of a junior tournament winner, after the new champion’s press conference at Citi Open. Photo credit Jane Voigt

This was Monfils second appearance in a final at Citi Open, having lost to Radek Stepanek in 2011. And for a man with a less-than stellar record in finals — 5-19 — his victory has to be sweet for a man who had never won an ATP Tour 500 event and turns 30 at the U. S. Open, especially since he missed his country’s Grand Slam, Roland Garros, due to an unspecified virus. 

“It's been a good year so far,” he said, after his 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-4 win. “And, for me, it’s a big step. But hopefully I’ll have [a] bigger than 500."

Monfils’ title here was his first won on American soil and his 6th ATP title overall. He became the third Frenchman to win in Washington D.C., too, following Yannick Noah (1985) and Arnaud Clement (2006). 

Arthur Ashe, one of the founders of the tournament along with Donald Dell in 1968, wanted to build an event in Washington where ‘black faces’ came out to watch the tennis in an integrated neighborhood, not at an exclusive private club of which there are many in the D. C. area. Ashe played in two finals: 1969 and 1970. He won in 1973.

“They’ve been an inspiration for me,” Monfils said about those who paved the way. “I grew up with those names. It’s priceless for me and a special moment for me to have my name next to them on the awning.”

The match was all but lost for Monfils when Karlovic took his spot at the baseline and served for the championship at 5-4 in the second set. But Karlovic faltered and went down 0-40. He’d hit two volleys wide and sent another long, yet dug back to deuce. Monfils then targeted Karlovic in a face-to-face net-to-net encounter to earn the advantage. Again, Karlovic had a put-away volley but sent it wide. The six-foot-eleven Croatian native had held serve 43 consecutive times before he dropped this one fateful game.

“I still had a bit of hope that I’d have chances like I had in the first set,” Monfils said, remembering three break points he couldn’t convert. “He got a little tight. I had a passing shot; I needed to put it on the court. I was very lucky when he missed a volley. But, it was tough.”

“If it was a normal match I would have won it right there,” Karlovic explained. “And, I don’t know why that my serve stops at that moment. It happens, but I’m not used to that. I was going to win and then I lose my serve. That is tennis.”

IMG 1933

Fans wore wide-brimmed hats, hats with towels underneath and umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. Photo credit Jane Voigt

Karlovic had one championship point, his first, on Monfils serve in the second set tiebreak, as well. But Monfils hit a service winner to erase the opportunity. Karlovic’s troubles continued when he netted a shot. That was it. On to the third where Karlovic admitted he was tired. 

“Every match you have a little pressure,” Karlovic said. “That’s nothing new. I’m used to it; I know how that feels. Usually I’m able to get over it, but today I didn’t. This is life and I’m disappointed a lot.”

Karlovic arrived in D.C. having won Newport last Sunday. Today’s match was his 9th in a row. He was attempting to become the oldest player at 37 to win career singles titles in back-to-back weeks since Ken Rosewall in 1973, Osaka. 

“This was a great week,” he said. “I was right there [today]. I missed my opportunities and in the third set I was dead [tired]. I couldn’t move anymore."

IMG 1934

Awards are about to begin, after Gael Monfils won the title. Photo credit Jane Voigt

Karlovic started the match with a bang; crisp he served 4 aces off the bat. Monfils had played all his prior rounds at night, so the wicked court temperature — over 130 degrees — plus the heat at 97 degrees and heavy humidity looked at first as if it was taking its toll on the Frenchman.

“He began to return my serve,” Ivo began, as an explanation to why he was broken five games into the third. “Up to then, he had no chance." 

Monfils won $348,200 USD for his win. He also earned 500 ranking points. On Monday his provisional ranking will move from No. 17 to No. 14. Karlovic will improve from No. 35 to No. 27. 

Mayor Marion Bowser attended the awards’ presentation, ending her introduction by saying, “The big winners today are tennis and community."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013