January 20, 2015
French newcomer Lucas Pouille gave Gael Monfils a fright in a wonderful late-night thriller in Melbourne. The controversial Monfils had pushed the boundaries of athleticism and gamesmanship in a dramatic match against his young compatriot.
The twenty-year-old Pouille had taken the first two sets before Monfils sent a stunning defensive pick-up straight back through his legs and followed up with an extraordinary cross-court backhand to leave the crowd gasping.
It was the start of a Monfils comeback, fuelled by much staring and shouting at his adversary. However, Pouille still led 3-1 in the fifth – but tightened with the finishing line in sight.
Then, fatally, he misjudged and left a Monfils winner that landed inside the baseline. Eventually the unpredictable Monfils emerged victorious, 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.
Monfils said: “It was incredible. Tough. I started flat and then kept believing I could do it, to be aggressive. I got through. I was thinking about my parents. I promised them I’d be good this year and found the energy. Lucas is young and strong. We’re looking for that in France.”
Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years with an “emotional” win over China’s Zhang Ze – and produced one of the shots of the tournament too.
An incredible back-hand retrieval seemed beyond any player in his prime, let alone a veteran who turns 34 in February. Yet the Australian, inspired by his home Slam, pulled off that impossible shot to set up his first match point. It took five of those match points to break his opponent’s resistance in the end. But Hewitt was finally through 6-3, 1-6, 6-0, 6-4 to thrill the Rod Laver Arena.
He said later: “I’m emotional. It was a big night and a big occasion. It’s starting to get back like the old days with a lot of young Aussie players coming through too. I’m not ready for the commentary box yet, I want to play here a bit longer.”
TOP DOGS SAIL THROUGH
World number one Novak Djokovic beat wannabe-Brit Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to prove he has overcome a virus. “It’s been a tough couple of weeks but that’s behind me now,” said Djokovic, who admitted that his backhand is currently like a shovel. “With the backhand, everything depends on your movement. I was flat with my legs so it was like shovel-work today. I’ll practise some balls on the backhand side and hope it’s going to be better next time.” Meanwhile reigning Aussie Open champion Stan Wawrinka beat Turkey’s Marcel Ilhan 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to progress comfortably in defence of his title.
MORE WOMEN’S SEEDS CRASH OUT
Flavia Pennetta, Andrea Petkovic and Jelena Jankovic all crashed out on the second day in Melbroune. Twelfth seed Pennetta lost to her fellow Italian Camila Giorgi, fifteenth seed Jankovic was downed by Timea Bacsinski, and America’s Madison Brengle took out Germany’s Petkovic, the thirteenth seed. Even Serena Williams looked uncomfortable in her second set against Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck The world number one had breezed through the first set 6-0 in 21 minutes, but took another 40 minutes to close the match with a nervous 6-4.