Gael Monfils faces one of, if not the toughest task in tennis on Friday in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Sixteen times the Frenchman has faced Novak Djokovic, and 16 times he has fallen.
So what strategy will Monfils employ in his 17th ATP Head2Head match against the World No. 1?
“I have no idea right now because 16 times it was the wrong one,” Monfils said, getting a laugh from the crowd after his quarter-final win against Richard Gasquet. “Hopefully the 17th will be the good one.”
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Monfils is one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour, winning 12 straight matches, including titles at the Open Sud de France and the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, held in Montpellier and Rotterdam, respectively. But he will have to confront a different challenge in Djokovic, who is 16-0 in 2020, including a 6-3, 6-2 win against Monfils at the ATP Cup.
“I’m 16 down against Novak. He’s the World No. 1, he hasn’t lost a match this year, so he’s in great shape,” Monfils said. “I’m just going with a new game plan and see how it works tomorrow night.”
Vitas Gerulaitis famously told press after snapping a 16-match losing streak against Jimmy Connors in 1980, “Let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row!”
Monfils will hope to follow in Gerulaitis’ footsteps. But he’s not getting too excited about his current form, knowing how tough of a task playing the top seed will be.
“I’m not counting. I try to be good every day even though I don’t think I play my best tennis [every day],” Monfils said. “[I] just control that I’m fighting and try to be very solid.”
Djokovic certainly won’t be taking Monfils lightly. The Serbian has dropped at least one set in half (8/16) of their previous clashes.
“Gael Monfils is in form. He’s Top 10 of the world. He’s playing possibly his best tennis that he’s ever played,” Djokovic said after cruising past Karen Khachanov on Thursday. “I’ve never lost to him, but we had some pretty long matches and tough encounters.
“[Gael is] one of the best if not the best athlete in our sport. He moves so well. He’s so fit. For me he has the most interesting game in tennis. I love watching him play and I love playing against him.”
Djokovic has only lost 11 games in six sets this week, looking in form to capture his 79th tour-level title. But for Monfils, will his 17th try against Djokovic be the charm?