Brands stuns Monfils in Doha
Doha - Daniel Brands, a little-known German qualifier ranked outside the world's top 150, produced his second upset of the week on Thursday to reach the first ATP World Tour semi-final of his career at the Qatar Open.
The towering purveyor of old-style one-strike tennis had upset the fifth-seeded Jeremy Chardy on New Year's day, and now imposed his staccato rallies and hot streaks upon another Frenchman, Gael Monfils, last year's runner-up, in a 6-1, 7-5 victory.
Monfils is beginning the new season with hopes of regaining a place in the world's top ten after recovering from persistent injury, and looked certain to reach one set all against Brands when he got within two points of that at 5-2, 30-love in the second set.
But in a startling quarter of an hour Brands changed everything. The hard-serving, sharp-volleying man from Bogen launched a sequence of winners, taking 20 of the next 23 points, making two breaks of serve in a row, and steam-rollering five successive games to snatch an improbable victory.
Monfils was remarkably rational after so disorienting a setback. "My mistake was maybe I focused too much on returning serve first and then trying to catch his backhand," he said.
"Maybe I should have opened more on his forehand and then tried to get his backhand.
"But it was tough because he does not give you a lot of rhythm. He just is going for every point, I would say, a winner."
Monfils may also have been limited by having had only two previous matches here, whereas a confident Brands had had five - and even those two had been Monfils' first in ten weeks.
He had also had a hard two-hour three-set victory yesterday over Phillip Kohlshreiber, the third-seeded German, which, so early in his comeback, may have taken a little from Monfils physically.
"It was tougher today because I felt a bit heavier, and, you know, it was my first tough match yesterday," he agreed.
"You know, I struggled a bit with my recovery, and I'm alone (here) so it's a bit different. I have to get used to, and, you know, just adjust a couple of stuff to be better.
"Actually, he was playing very fast at the beginning, and it took me a while to adapt and, you know, to just to see how he was playing."
However Monfils claims his troublesome knee is now in good repair, which may mean this is still a useful start to the season. It also suggests the gifted and charismatic former world number seven retains realistic prospects of regaining his former status.
As for Brands, conjecture is more imponderable. "I have to make the top hundred first," he said, eyeing a foothold, free from the burden of qualifying competitions, on the ATP World Tour.
"But I had a good preparation for this season, so after that I can maybe make top 50, or even top 20 - who knows?"
Brands will now play his third Frenchman in four rounds - Richard Gasquet, the number two seed, whose 6-1, 6-3 win over Lukas Lacko, the world number 50 from Slovakia, came as a relief after his long struggle yesterday.
Then Gasquet recovered from 2-5 down in the final set to get past Grega Zemlja of Slovenia. Now he needed just 70 minutes to advance to the semi-finals.
"I tried to play with my backhand," said Gasquet, referring to a stroke which has been described the most perfect of its kind on the tour. "And I am very glad that it was easier today."
Results of the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open on Thursday (x denotes seed):
David Ferrer (ESP x1) bt Paolo Lorenzi (ITA) 6-3, 6-0
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) bt Simone Bolelli (ITA) 6-1, 6-1
Daniel Brands (GER) bt Gael Monfils (FRA) 6-1, 7-5
Richard Gasquet (FRA x2) bt Lukas Lacko (SVK) 6-1, 6-3