When a male tennis pro is reduced to hitting first serves 79 mph, something is very wrong.
That’s at least 20 mph below French pro Gael Monfils’ normal delivery, and he’s not one of the sport’s heavy-hitters. Every time a point ended in the second set, Monfils grimaced and grabbed his left side.
Finally, down a set and a service break, he called it a day, conceding the Winston-Salem Open final to Austrian Jurgen Melzer, 6-3, 2-1, retired.
“I’m a fighter. But at that time it was better to listen to my body than my mind,” said Monfils, who battled a hip and abdominal injury for several days.
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“Yesterday I had the sharp pain, but I could handle it,” Monfils continued. “I thought I could finish it no matter what. Then in like 50 minutes, I tried to serve 100 percent. One serve, and that was it: Like electricity is coming out, like something snapped.”
Melzer wasn’t sure what he was seeing. Monfils has a reputation for theatrics, someone whose focus can vary widely from match to match, sometimes set to set.
“If you’ve seen Gael the past few years, he’ll have days like that, and you don’t know why he does it,” Melzer said.
“And then it was, ‘OK, he’s not pulling any serve like he can.’ He’s such a great player that I was just focusing on my thing – try to be aggressive, try to come to the net as much as possible.’’
Melzer broke Monfils in the Frenchman’s first service game of the match, then served out that set. Monfils’ first serve of the second set was a double fault, and his service speed plunged steadily from the 100s into the 90s and low 80s.
He looked like a NASCAR driver running out of fuel.
“(Right) before he retired, he was serving really slow. So then I missed so many returns (thinking) ‘OK, if I break him, this could be the end.’ You get a little tight,” Melzer recalled.
“Nobody wants to win a final like that. You want to be out there competing. But at the end of the day you take the title however you can.”
Melzer needed this. He left Wimbledon with a shoulder injury that cost him four weeks of the summer circuit. He said he played “terrible” at his last tournament in Cincinnati and didn’t feel any confidence with the U.S. Open pending.
John Isner, a Greensboro native and the Winston-Salem Open defending champ, had to sit out this week with a hip injury. Isner often talks about the calm he draws from a return to the Triad just before the U.S. Open.
Melzer might not be a local, but he gets what Isner means.
“You get a chance to work on your game. Lots of courts and indoor courts if it rains,” Melzer said. “New York is just crazy. I don’t want to go early to New York.”