Monfils triumphs in Stockholm
Stockholm - Gael Monfils won his first title in a year on Sunday when he defeated Jarkko Nieminen 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 to claim the Stockholm Open crown.
Monfils, ranked 20th but provisional 15th in the 2011 points chase for next month's ATP World Tour Finals in London, kept his qualifying chances alive for the eight-man season wrap-up.
The fighting Finn saved three match points before driving a forehand wide to lose in just under two hours.
Nieminen was playing in his third Stockholm final. The 30-year-old, world number 73, lost in 2001 to Sjeng Schalken and in 2006 to James Blake, whom he beat in Saturday's semi-finals.
Monfils had been the only member of the top 15 without a title this year until he came through over Nieminen in a repeat of a win in Bangkok three weeks ago.
"I'm very happy, it was a great final for me," said Monfils, 36-14 on the season. "I'm pleased to win it.
"I was strong in my mind and felt very concentrated. Jarkko was playing well. But I believed in myself. I also didn't have a drop in form and that was also great. My serve worked well, it helped me a lot."
The Frenchman, who cut short his Asian tour after losing in the Bangkok semi-finals and returned to Paris for treatment on a knee problem, said that his quick recovery was a surprise.
"I didn't think it would go like this," said the winner of a fourth career title, who claimed his last in Montpellier last October.
"I went to Paris and rehabbed and trained. It went better than expected for me."
After breaks in the first four games of the contest, Monfils finally established a 3-2 lead.
The Frenchman stayed in control from that point and claimed the opener in 38 minutes as Nieminen volleyed wide.
But the tone of the contest shifted slightly in the second set, with Nieminen announcing his renewed intentions as he held with an ace for 1-0.
Monfils, his athletic style taking him to all corners of the court and producing the occasional tumble, dropped to 2-4 as Nieminen fired a stinging down the line winner only to lose serve a game later from an error.
The French seed couldn't hold on though, with Nieminen fighting through for a break-back to take a 5-3 lead as the partisan crowd cheered the player from the neighbouring Nordic nation.
The Finn finished off the set to square the match on his second set point after a first clipped the tape.
Monfils started the third with his eighth ace to lead 1-0, then broke for 3-1 before holding to love for 4-1 as he tightened the screws.
He took victory three games later with a break as the Finn fought off three match points, finally going down on a forehand wide.