Dubai: Frenchman Gael Monfils feels the stability of his relationship with former two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina can push him towards realising his life goals.
Monfils took an entertaining hour and 45 minutes to power his way past former US Open champion and third-seeded Marin Cilic 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 to ease into a second round meeting with wild card Marcos Baghdatis at 4pm on Wednesday.
Cilic’s exit ensured half of the top eight seeds went home within the opening two days of the men’s competition. On Monday, fourth seed Karen Khachanov and seventh seed Milos Raonic were knocked off, while Daniil Medvedev (No. 8) was followed by Cilic, on Tuesday.
The blossoming romance between Svitolina and Monfils was one of the rare and unexpected sub-plots at last month’s Australian Open, and now that bond between the two players only seems to have got better. Monfils, who won the Rotterdam title earlier this month, flew into Dubai last week to cheer as Svitolina went after a record third consecutive crown. The Ukrainian lost in three sets in the semi-final to eventual champion Belinda Bencic.
“I admire what she’s doing, how she works and the mentality she has. It’s incredible. But I always say that it’s not for me. She’s too serious for me. It’s her way. It’s her way to be where she is. Even to become better,” Monfils applauded.
“For me, the only motivation is that we have to make the other proud. I love when she wins. I’m very proud of her and I think it’s the same for her. I’m serious in my way, which is the normal way. I put in a lot of work with my coach, a lot of work with myself to be back, and this is definitely a bit different than her way. At the end we try to be at the top with different ways and different cultures. That’s the beauty of our relationship,” he added.
Monfils carried forward his title-winning form from Rotterdam earlier this month as breaks in the first and ninth games was enough to secure him the first set 6-3. The second saw the 32-year-old relax a bit and that was enough for the lanky Cilic to walk away with the set 6-4. In the third, there was no way Cilic could stop Monfils from improving their career meeting record to 4-0 as the Frenchman took the decider 6-0 in just 22 minutes.
“It was just a matter of me to step strong in the third set. I had this momentum going on his service game and for me, it just put pressure on him and that obviously worked,” Monfils related.
“Today I was a bit better than him. I don’t particularly like his game. I think today what I see was one more time very, very good on the game plan set with my coach,” he added.
That said, Monfils was keen to continue with the good work that he’s been putting in with new coach [Liam Smith from Australia]. “I just try to keep doing what I’m doing. Every day a little more, a little more to improve, definitely try to reach my goal this year,” he related.
And the title in Rotterdam earlier this month has gone on to push him towards higher goals in more ways than one. “The title has done a lot for me. It’s my second ATP 500 of my career. It’s big for me. It’s big for my coach also because he’s new working with me. He knows it’s never easy to start a new relationship without wins,” Monfils said
“I think it’s getting more confidence about what he is telling me and what actually I’m doing. I think we’re doing fine. Nothing is going to replace a win, so we are both happy. I will try and keep on this track,” he promised.