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France holds its breath as Monfils takes on Federer

Latest update : 2008-06-06

21-year-old Gaël Monfils, the first French tennis player to qualify for the French Open semi-finals since 2001, will face world number one Roger Federer on Friday.


Gael Monfils stands just two wins away from becoming the first home winner of the French Open since Yannick Noah in 1983 following his win over David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
  
But the two obstacles that stand in his way are as tough as they could be in tennis.
  
First he must defeat top seed Roger Federer in Friday's semi-finals and then he would have to play the winner of the other semi between triple champion and second seed Rafael Nadal and Australian Open champion and third seed Novak Djokovic.
  
Mission impossible, many would say, but not Monfils, a 21-year-old former world junior champion who, until this tournament, had struggled to make the difficult transition to the ranks of the seniors.
  
"I have not yet achieved my objective," the Paris-born player said.
  
"We are from the Caribbean (his family hail from the island of Guadeloupe). We are soldiers on a mission and I want to see that mission through to the end.
  
"In the short-term that means beating the world No.1. For the rest we will see later."
  
Bold words from a player who hit rock bottom over the winter as he struggled with a succession of injuries and motivational problems.
  
But a renewal with former coach Thierry Champion, with whom he had fallen out, and a new-found dedication to his physical preparation has turned things around.
  
Monfils was also inspired by his good friend Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's unexpected run into the Australian Open final in January.
  
Noah's former coach Patrice Hagelauer says that Monfils does stand a chance of pulling off what would be one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history, especially as his game against Federer will be played on clay.
  
"On any other surface, it would be more difficult, but on clay I feel he is capable of upsetting Federer," he said.
  
"What interests me is to see what tactics Federer will adopt when faced with a player as unpredictable as Gael.
  
"He is ultra-dangerous. He gets everything back. He is really quick, has good anticipation and he ends up by forcing his opponent to make mistakes.
  
"He can be aggressive but he is also very creative."
  
Three-times former champion Mats Wilander, who lost to Noah in the 1983 final, was more circumspect.
  
He praised Monfils but said that while there were similarities with what Tsonga achieved in Melbourne, there were big differences also.
  
"In Paris, Monfils has beaten moderately-good players and then a David Ferrer who failed to live up to his ranking of world number five, while in Melbourne, Tsonga defeated Gasquet, Youzhny and then Nadal to get to the final.
  
"He will be aware that on Friday against Federer, it will be a totally different challenge."

Date created : 2008-06-06

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