SHANGHAI -- Gael Monfils defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3 on Thursday in the third round of the Shanghai Masters, another inconsistent performance from the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Federer showed flashes of fight and brilliance in the second match of his first tournament since a fourth-round loss at the U.S. Open. But he struggled to secure easy holds during the two-hour, nine-minute match, hitting only three aces, a surprisingly low number given the quick speed of the court (Monfils had 15). He repeatedly fell behind 0-30 in his service games and faced 10 break points, of which Monfils converted three. Federer finished with 32 winners and 36 unforced errors, while Monfils had 37 winners and 26 unforced errors.
"I'm not going to get too down on myself," Federer said. "It wasn't the perfect match. ... I could have done many things better. I could have done many things worse. So just going to move along."
The 32-year-old Swiss was visibly frustrated after errors and angrily muttered to himself as the match progressed. Federer looked a step slow when pulled wide, particularly to his forehand side. Monfils says he was surprised to see Federer misfire on the forehand.
"Maybe I took a bit advantage of this," Monfils said. "I know he will try to go for his shot, but maybe he is a bit less confident. You might not try to play too risky and maybe make him play a bit more and let him rip his forehand and let him play another one, another one. Before, hitting [to his] forehand, it's like a 99 percent [chance the point is] over."
In the second set, Federer came back from a break down at 3-5 and erased a 3-5 deficit in the tiebreaker by winning the next four points to level the match. With the Frenchman looking fatigued, Federer appeared to be in good position to take the third set. But Monfils broke him in the fourth game, and Federer was unable to convert two break points in the seventh game to get back on serve. Federer was 1-of-5 on break points for the match.
"One of those matches that could have gone either way," Federer said. "I think I was a little lucky in the second set to get back. ... I thought I clearly had the upper hand [after winning the second set]. Momentum was on my side. I had chances early on in the third set to make something happen. He kind of recovered, then started to serve a bit better again toward the end of the third set, which made it difficult for me. It's a bit of an up‑and‑down performance for me."
Monfils, a former world No. 7 who is ranked 42nd, beat Federer for the second time in eight meetings and advanced to his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal since 2011. He will play Novak Djokovic on Friday.
Federer, who is seventh in both the ATP rankings and the standings to qualify for the eight-player ATP World Tour Finals, lost to a player outside the tour's top 20 for the fifth time in his last six tournaments.
"I think we still have fear when we play against him," Monfils said. "Just, you know, [it] matters a couple points. Then maybe it helps [your confidence] a little bit because you know he had a couple losses. So it's less fear, but still, you're not going, 'OK, I play Federer, it's an easy draw.' No, definitely not."
Federer was asked how he can recover the spark for next season.
"It's pretty simple: You just keep on working hard, make sure that you get back on winning ways, then you become confident again, sort of get there," he said. "I'm still losing against good players. The level of play is very good. But [what's] important is if you do play the right way and you move the right way, then all of a sudden that margin you don't have maybe right now, you get it again.
"It's just important not to worry too much. It's important to keep on doing what I'm doing. Obviously, I might get tougher draws as we move along with my ranking not being in the top four anymore. But that's OK. I don't really care that much about the rankings if I'm not world No. 1. So for me it's just important to keep on enjoying what I do."
Here are highlights of the match (via YouTube user TennisNowHD):
This post has been updated.