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Friday, 6 June 2008

The dream continues for Gaël Monfils

France is once again basking in potential tennis glory as Gaël Monfils carries the hopes of the country in today’s semi-finals of the French Open at Roland Garros.

If he makes it past the world number one, Switzerland’s Roger Federer, Monfils will be the second Frenchman to make a Grand Slam final this year.

In January, against all expectations, fellow French tennis ace, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, made it to the final of the Australian Open, before losing to the Serb, Novak Djokovic.

Perhaps the exploits of Monfils at this year’s French Open are all the more extraordinary as he wasn’t really given much of a chance going into the tournament. He’s currently only ranked 59th in the world and he had been short of match practice going into Roland Garros, winning only five matches on the ATP tour this year.

The 21-year-old had been nursing a hamstring injury, which forced him to withdraw from the last two Grand Slams in the United States and Australia.

And in his short professional career Monfils has been overshadowed by other French players of his generation such as Richard Gasquet.

But now the 21 year-old has come of age as far as the French are concerned, and they will be willing him on not just to make it through to the final, but also become the first Frenchman to lift the trophy on home soil since 1983.

His appearance in today’s semi-finals also marks the first time a Frenchman has made it this far in the tournament since Sébastien Grosjean in 2001.

In Wednesday’s quarterfinal match against number five seed, Spain’s David Ferrer, Monfils grunted his way through four sets to upset the Spaniard.

Appearing on French prime time news later in the evening, he was uncharacteristically coy about his exploits, preferring not to mention his planned strategy for this semi-final duel with Federer.

Of course the odds are stacked against Monfils causing an upset. The two players have only met three times before with Federer coming out the winner on each occasion - the last time was on clay in Monte Carlo in April. Indeed Monfils has never taken a set off the Swiss.

The Frenchman might well start as the underdog, and in a sense will be mixing it with the modern greats of the game, cutting a somewhat odd figure perhaps alongside the three most highly ranked players in the world going into the final four.

But don’t underestimate the power of the centre court crowd who will surely be right behind him.

And let’s not forget, Federer doesn’t have the best of track records at Roland Garros. The French Open is the only Grand Slam title missing from his collection.

Should Monfils against all the odds make it through to the final, he would then have a crack at becoming the first French player to win the men’s singles title since 1983, when Yannick Noah famously scored a straight sets win over Sweden’s (then) defending champion Mats Wilander.

France is hungry for success at its own tournament as was clear from the front pages of all the country’s national dailies, which carried pictures of their new hero ahead of today’s match.

Although it has been a long wait for a French victory in the men’s singles, there has been more recent success in the women’s draw with Mary Pierce lifting the title back in 2000.

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