Dmitry Tursunov won the first point of the tiebreaker, but Gael Monfils promptly evened the score with a 122-mph ace. The crowd, dormant for much of the match, showed signs of life.
Fans could barely contain their enthusiasm during the previous match between John Isner and James Blake late Thursday afternoon, giving the Americans a standing ovation after Isner won a dramatic third-set tiebreaker. But while Tursunov and Monfils faced off in the third round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, the most acrobatic plays drew only a smattering of applause until a thrilling conclusion brought the crowd to its feet, and Monfills a hard-fought 6-2, 7-6(9) victory.
Monfils, the tournament’s top-seeded player, took a 2-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but Tursunov drew even. The Frenchman won the next point and lay sprawled on the ground, flat on his back, for several seconds, rising slowly as fans chanted his last name.
Both Monfils and Tursunov had to play a match earlier Thursday after Wednesday’s matches were postponed by rain. Monfils defeated American Ryan Sweeting, while Tursunov overcame Italian Flavio Cipolla.
The tiebreaker was even at 3, then even at 4. Monfils, currently a career-high No. 7 in the world, took a 5-4 lead on a highly-contested point after returning a smash by Tursunov, placing it just inside the baseline, and the fans hollered in appreciation.
Monfils coasted in the match’s first set 6-2, taking five consecutive sets at one point. In the second set, after each player held his serve once, Monfils broke Tursunov and took the lead, and it appeared that the match would end quickly. But the second set would not be nearly as one-sided as the first, as each player ultimately won six games to set up the tiebreaker.
Tursunov then evened the tiebreaker at 5. Monfils won the next point, but he couldn’t convert the match point. The tiebreaker was tied at 6, then at 7.
Monfils has been to Legg Mason only once before, making the semifinals in 2007. But after replacing his former coach Roger Rasheed with his fitness coach Patrick Champagne, he believes he has the ability to make a run for his fourth career title.
“I think I have the potential, but sometimes I’m like, ‘This guy is playing good.’ I forget I’m playing good as well,” Monfils said. “I think I show too much respect to my opponent. Maybe I need to be more selfish. I think I can be better and maybe reach the finals this time.”
Monfils took an 8-7 lead on a shot by Tursunov that hit the top of the net and went long, but he failed to convert match point for the third consecutive time. When the Russian took a 9-8 lead, the crowd supported him with whistles and shouts of “Come on, Dima!”