The Intensity Vampire

Monfils d. Murray, 6/2 2/6 6/3

It turns out there are few things more gratifying than a hairbrained prediction that comes to pass, even when the prediction happens to be that Gael Monfils will win the Paris Indoors. He’s now a step closer, having played an up-and-down match to dispose of an up-and-down Andy Murray. The scoreline tells the story, which is also satisfying. Last week I substituted an alternative crazy prediction that Nalbandian would take Paris, but that hasn’t panned out too well. Now Monfils is teaching me not to make stupid predictions that I don’t want to see come true. Meanwhile Nalbandian has taught me not to change my stupid predictions on a whim. I’m learning important lessons all over the place.

Anyway, the match: Monfils came out wired, buoyed by the boisterously partisan Parisians, fairly crackling with intensity. Murray was never in the first set, and Monfils was everywhere, darting, sprinting, lunging, leaping. He creamed one forehand winner at 179Kmh, the fastest groundstroke anyone has hit this week. However, as he inevitably does against all but the most assured or skillful of opponents, Murray sucked the life from the match, forcing Monfils to compete on his terms. He’s like an intensity-vampire. Having gotten his teeth into the Frenchman’s neck and felt him go limp, Murray began to pick up the pace, claiming handfuls of points with solid one-two plays on serve. Monfils in the second set was a shade of his first-set self. Where before he’d been making the play, he was now sadly content to rally pointlessly at three-quarter pace until he duffed an error, or Murray exploited an opening. Once again, the end of a set had radically changed the momentum of play. This is something else I’ve recently pointed out, and thus something else I can feel smugly gratified about.

The third set saw both guys on even terms. They were still Murray’s terms, to be sure, but Monfils for a wonder was doing it better. He was now patient where he’d been passive, and his groundstrokes, while not gaining much penetration, had nonetheless grown heavier. (To paraphrase the inimitable words of John Fitzgerald, Murray started to have real problems with Monfils’ big, heavy balls.) Indeed, for a dude who’s supposed to be one of the fittest players on tour – the ATP even released a kind of propaganda video about his off-season training regimen – Murray was starting to look decidedly ragged, especially when pulled wide to his forehand side. Several times he chose to pull the trigger on big shots when he could have merely reset the rally, Hewitt-style. The crowd was back into it by now, and Monfils rode the wave past the finish line, breaking the Scot twice for good measure.

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