Huge cheers greeted the entrance of Gael Monfils onto Philippe Chatrier Court. The crowd barely registered Andy Murray’s arrival, save for a smattering of jeers.
Murray smirked as he walked onto the court, clearly accepting of his fate of having to enter a cauldron of vociferous Parisian support for a home-grown player. Perhaps he even relished the challenge. It seemed that way judging by his level of play, both early in the match and at its bizarre and dramatic end; he completed a 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 victory that sends him into a blockbuster semi-final against top seed Rafael Nadal.
Despite the somewhat hostile environment Murray immediately got to work, hitting crisply and consistently and always giving Monfils a look at an extra ball. The Frenchman could not match this level of steadiness – gesticulating and looking generally uncomfortable out there in the process – and Murray promptly broke service en route to a 3-0 lead.
The mercurial Monfils did settle, and despite the strong winds found his range. Cranking up the power on his forehand, 0-3 became 3-3, and now we had a contest. Games progressed on service until the tenth game, where Murray was able to extract some errors from Monfils’ racquet and score set points. On the second, they junk-balled their way through a mind-numbing 34-shot rally, ending only when Murray finally pulled the trigger on a backhand and played an inside-out forehand winner off the short reply.
Patiently working the ball around, Murray skipped out to a 2-0 in the second set. Monfils slapped a limp backhand halfway up the net to make it 4-0, and by 5-0 it was shades of the Frenchman’s fourth set fadeout against Fabio Fognini in the third round. His feet were not moving, his effort was suspect and he was simply rushing to the line to deliver services without preparing.
Down 5-1, Monfils at least made the contest a little more interesting in a dramatic seventh game. A ball fell out of Murray’s pocket mid-rally which drew whistles from the crowd and protests from Monfils, crescendo-ing to a level at which Murray conceded the point rather than playing a let. The seventh seed required five set points to finally subdue the more animated Monfils.
This new version of the Frenchman persisted into the third set. He was alive in all of the games, keeping his nose in front as the set progressed on service until 5-4. In that tenth game, Monfils’ relentless power extracted an error to give him two set points, and when Murray netted a backhand a few points later, Monfils was back in the match.
Monfils had all the momentum in the world following a service break in the fourth game of the fourth set. The Chatrier crowd was in full voice and he played to them, lapping up their energy and confidently hitting out. The lead was soon 4-1; Monfils had won 12 of the past 15 points. Murray, woefully despondent, now could not seem to clear the net, and soon the Frenchman had levelled at two-sets-all.
By this time it was 9:20pm, and in the fading light Murray requested the match be suspended. Amid the incensed whistles of the crowd his request was denied, and they played on.
Cue an outrageous momentum swing. Murray’s crucial hold – and subsequent celebration – in the first game seemed to completely take the wind out of Monfils’ sails. His forehand began flying as Murray found his range again; soon the Scot had a break, and consolidated it with the help of a blazing passing shot winner to move up 3-0.
So complete was Monfils’ capitulation that he would finish the set not even attempting to play Murray’s shots, and by winning just seven points to 24. The rollicking Chatrier crowd of just 20 minutes earlier now sat in stunned silence.
Monfils’ 61st unforced error saw the final stanza over in just 24 minutes.