Gael Monfils spent much of the week electrifying the French Open crowd and infusing the soggy, damp tournament with life, upsetting fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych in the first round and defeating the talented Ernests Gulbis in the second round. But the flamboyant Frenchman's run ended in predictably roller-coaster fashion Friday, when he blew a two-set lead and squandered four match points as Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo rallied for a 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory in the third round.
Monfils, granted a wild card after his ranking fell outside the top 100 because of injuries, has played nonstop over the last three weeks and it finally caught up to him. He entered the tournament in good form after winning a Challenger in Bordeaux, France, and making the final in Nice, France, but that successful build-up came with a price.
Monfils on Friday played his 13th match in 18 days. To make matters worse for his fitness, he played five sets against Berdych on Monday, four against Gulbis on Wednesday and five more Friday after being unable to convert one of his four match points in the fourth set against Robredo. To put things in perspective, in the two weeks preceding the French Open, Monfils played 23 sets over 10 best-of-three matches. In three matches in five days at Roland Garros, he played 14 sets. No wonder he was wiped.
"Maybe today he was physically fitter than me," Monfils told French reporters. "Already during the match I started feeling some problems. I tried to hide it, but there comes a stage when whatever you do to hide your physical problems you can no longer hide them, and he became stronger and stronger. ... It is frustrating, because I don't like to lose matches for physical or fitness [reasons]. But today I have to admit he was stronger."
Robredo has been strong throughout the European clay-court season during his resurgence. At this time last year, the 31-year-old former world No. 5 was ranked No. 470 and not yet back from a leg injury that sidelined him for five months. He began this year ranked outside the top 100 and secured the final seed for the French Open through some hard-earned victories. Robredo launched his preparation for Roland Garros by beating Stanislas Wawrinka, Kevin Anderson and Benoit Paire en route to winning the Grand Prix Hassan II, an ATP 250 event in Morocco. He then defeated Grigor Dimitrov and Berdych to reach the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open and made another quarterfinal a week later at the Portugal Open.
Robredo next plays countryman Nicolas Almagro, who will be fresh after dispatching Andreas Seppi, 7-6 (1), 6-0, 6-4. Those 31-year-old legs will need to recover quickly. In the meantime, Team Robredo deserves to celebrate.