Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Dubai Tennis: Gael Monfils 'stepped strong' to continue unbeaten record against Marin Cilic

Frenchman conjures another victory against Marin Cilic on Tuesday night, defeating the No 3 seed 6-3, 4-6, 6-0

Gael Monfils came into Dubai having last week captured an eighth ATP title, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final in Rotterdam. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
Gael Monfils came into Dubai having last week captured an eighth ATP title, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final in Rotterdam. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo

Different setting, same result for Gael Monfils.

The Frenchman, known as a mercurial magician on court, conjured another victory against Marin Cilic on Tuesday night, defeating the No 3 seed 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 to progress to the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

It lifted the head-to-head record between the two to 4-0 in Monfils’ favour. Such has been his dominance, that when the draw was made on Saturday, Cilic joked that the organisers should re-do it.

Quite clearly, and for some reason not known even to himself, Monfils has the Croat's number.

“Just luck,” Monfils said. “I play him tomorrow, I can lose. It's not every time. I was a bit better than him today.

“I don't particularly like his game. Today what I saw was one more time very, very good on the gameplan I set with my coach. Like, very good. This work. Is nothing to do with him.”

Fortune or not, the match contained a lot of quality, right from the off, when Monfils laid down a marker in the first game by breaking Cilic’s serve. In the second, Cilic saved a break point as he sought to level the match, finally doing so with his third set point.

Then, though, Monfils turned on the afterburners. He broke to go 2-0 up, then 4-0, then to seal the match.

“I think I stepped strong in the match,” he said. “This first game was key because I knew he's a player who plays with a lot of confidence. You know if you can get early in his mind, it's always a good thing.

“Then credit to him because I push him to get back into the second set. He made incredible shots to close. It was just a matter of me to step strong in the third set. I had this momentum going on in his service game. For me, was just put pressure, pressure. Obviously it worked.”

To be fair, it has been working for some time, and not just against Cilic. Monfils came into Dubai – his third appearance at the tournament – having last week captured an eighth ATP title, defeating Stan Wawrinka in the final in Rotterdam.

Patently, it resonated.

“[It meant] a lot… a lot,” said Monfils, who faces in Wednesday’s second round 2016 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis. “It's my second [ATP] 500 [event win] in my whole career. It's big for me. It's big for my coach, also, because he's new working with me.

"He knows it's never easy to start a new relationship without wins. Nothing’s going to replace a win. So we’re both happy. As I say, I try to keep on this track.”

Marin Cilic of Croatia arrived in Dubai having last played a professional match at the Australian Open last month. Ali Haider / EPA
Marin Cilic of Croatia arrived in Dubai having last played a professional match at the Australian Open last month. Ali Haider / EPA

Having world No 6 Elina Svitolina as his girlfriend must play its part, especially this week. The Ukrainian won in Dubai in 2017 and again last year again, and sat courtside on Tuesday to cheer on her beau.

Monfils cannot help but be inspired.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “I admire what she's doing, how she works, the mentality she has. It's incredible. But I always say but not for me, not for me. She's too serious for me. It's her way. It's her way to be where she is, even to become better.

“Me, the only motivation that I will say that we have is to make the other proud. I love when she wins. I'm very proud of her. I think same for her.”

Asked if a different approach this season has led to a better mindset, the world No 23 said: “Definitely. New goals, new team, new routine. Obviously wins under my belt. Everything is going fine.

"I just try to keep doing what I'm doing. Every day a little more, a little more to improve; definitely try to reach my goal this year.”

Updated: February 26, 2019 10:18 PM

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