Gael Monfils’ charmed run at the Dubai Championships continued on Thursday after he battled into the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 win over lowly qualifier Ricardas Berankis.
The Frenchman, who came into the tournament off the back of beating Stan Wawrinka in Rotterdam earlier this month to win an eighth career title, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday’s semifinal after an unexpectedly tight win.
Unseeded Monfils, 32, revealed that he needed to get angry with himself to get over the line after missing chances to close out a straight-sets victory when a set up and leading the second 5-4.
“It was tough mentally, I was upset that I didn’t finish it (then). I had to get angry to find the energy to come back,” he said after coming from a break down to storm the final set.
“I was playing flat, I knew I had to do something.
“My opponent was very brave, he went for his shots, came to the net and made it difficult.”
Monfils’ performance dipped drastically after ripping through the opening set in 23 minutes, losing the second and re-discovering his game only just in time to claim the victory.
In the end it took nearly two hours for the world No. 23 to beat Berankis, ranked 113 in the world and playing his first quarter-final since October.
“It started to get a bit windy. He went for different shots and he was getting more on the line.
“I think I got a little bit away from my game plan, but he did make brilliant shots, it was a mix of everything.
“He hit the ball big, he was quick, it was amazing how quick he was on to all my passing shots. “I felt he was there all the time. I think I’m quite good, but it was quite tricky for me,” he added.
Also on Thursday, man of the moment Tsitsipas made easy work of his Polish opponent Hubert Hurkacz, the man who vanquished Kei Nishikori in the previous round.
The Greek wonderkid was frustrated at not having won in straight sets but his progress through to the semifinals was never in doubt once into the final set.
“That was frustrating, but I knew that the crowd enjoyed the match. They probably wanted to stay a bit longer.
“His serve dropped, and his first-serve percentages, giving me the opportunity and possibility to be more aggressive and start the rallies.
“I was serving a bit better, maybe opening the court, being aggressive. When I broke him the first time, I showed him that I’m still in the match, I still want to break him more. “I guess that mentally, he saw the dominance of his opponent, that affected him probably. That’s how I felt,” he said.
On his semifinal opponent Monfils, he said he knew his service game had to be perfect.
“We’re both serving really well, we have similar game style.
“I guess I’m a bit more aggressive than him, but he’s much faster and I’m going to have to deal with all of that, be patient, play with passion as well, just wait for the opportunities to break him.
“I think I’m going to have to serve well to win that match, if I don’t serve well, I’ll have trouble.”
There’s added incentive for Tsitsipas going into the game, knowing a victory in Dubai would see him move into the top 10.
“I’m thinking about it almost every day, I want it badly and I want it to happen very much.
“I know I’ll have to win a couple of crucial matches to get there as the point difference is pretty big, I’m going to have to dominate more.
“It’s a good motivation because I’m so close, to get it as early as possible.
“For me, personally, I feel like I have the game to be there already, maybe even in the future, but (I hope) as soon as possible,” he said.