Deuced Flat

Washington, Final

Stepanek d. (1) Monfils, 6/4 6/4

Radek Stepanek today defeated Gael Monfils in straight sets in the Washington final, a putative upset that has been widely attributed to the vagaries of scheduling, as though a poor Monfils performance requires any explication from external sources. He looked deuced flat, make no mistake, but some regard the lithe Frenchman as the greatest pure athlete the sport has yet witnessed, and it isn’t as though a night match with John Isner saps ones stamina to quite the degree that an extended tussle with, say, Novak Djokovic would. There were also a couple of lengthy and restful rain delays, which allowed viewers to revisit the quarterfinals from the day before, in case we hadn’t yet tired of the commentators mangling Victor Troicki’s name: Trow-eeki. The semifinal had ended late, but it was hardly the turn-around demanded by the apparently Super Saturday.

It’s more accurate – if less helpful – to say that Monfils played badly for the same reason he usually does, which is to say none. These performances generally occur out of nowhere, usually signalling the end of an upward trend in his form, a subito piano at the peak of a crescendo. Think back to last year’s US Open, when an imposing passage through the early rounds counted for nothing against Djokovic in the quarterfinals, a match in which Monfils barely seemed to be playing tennis at all. Frequently the crescendo carries him to a final, but rarely further. His record in finals is now a dismal 3-11. There’s an issue here.

Stepanek’s finals record is now a more respectable 5-7. Today’s victory has neatly halved his ranking to 27, which means that he will be seeded for the US Open. This will be a relief for him, but an even greater relief for the other seeds. A wily veteran on a fast hardcourt, Stepanek is a truly unattractive prospect in the early rounds.

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