Gael Monfils looked in vintage form in his opening round win over Carlos Gimeno Valero at the Mutua Madrid Open on Monday afternoon, but the World No. 21 will have to go where he has never been before if he wants to extend his run at the ATP Masters 1000 event.
Monfils holds a 0-17 record against his second-round opponent, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and the two-time quarter-finalist is aware of the size of the task that lies ahead.
“[Playing Djokovic] is going to be a big challenge for me,” Monfils told ATPTour.com after his quickfire 6-3, 6-0 win over Spanish wild card Gimeno Valero. “I have never beaten him on the ATP Tour. I am getting my rhythm back as well and it is funny because he is too but has more matches on clay than me. I will try and make good decisions on the court, to try and beat him.”
If the Frenchman wants to notch a maiden win against 37-time Masters 1000 champion Djokovic, his outstanding defensive skills could be key. Perhaps more importantly, Monfils will have to use that defence to win points as effectively as he did against Gimeno Valero.
According to Tennis Data Innovations’ Conversion and Steal scores for the match, Monfils won 19 of 33 points after being in a defensive situation against the Spaniard. This gave him an impressive Steal score of 58 per cent for the first-round clash, showcasing Monfils’ ability to find a way to win points when under pressure (Learn More About Conversion and Steal Scores).
According to the match’s Balance of Power, Gimeno Valero was actually in an offensive position more often than Monfils. But the home favourite struggled to convert because of Monfils’ dogged defence, which made the difference.
Monfils will hope to regain his early season form as he faces Djokovic for the first time since 2020 in Dubai. The Frenchman began the season with an 8-2 record after clinching an 11th ATP Tour title in Adelaide and reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open in January. His form has dipped since then, but the 35-year-old is comfortable with his underdog status as he prepares to face three-time champion Djokovic in Madrid for the first time.
“The guy is better than me, that is it,” said Monfils. “Every match is an opportunity to win, I try to take some lessons. He can beat me tomorrow and maybe at Rome and then Roland Garros, and then maybe I can beat him once.”