For the second day in a row, rain disrupted the proceedings at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. But this afternoon, even that was insufficient for top seed and wildcard Gael Monfils to prevail. Unseeded Radek Stepanek bested Monfils 6-4,6-4 to win this ATP 500 tournament, the biggest prize of his career.
With a record of 5-2 against Stepanek, Monfils seemed in good stead to become the first Frenchman to triumph in the nation’s capital since Arnaud Clement beat Andy Murray in 2006.
For his part, Stepanek was on a quest to end his nation’s 29 year drought at this venue. Petr Korda, Stepanek’s coach, was the last victorious Czech in 1992.
The preamble to a disastrous afternoon for Monfils came in his initial service game. Monfils had two successive double faults despite holding.
Subsequent to guarding serve, Stepanek struck a backhand crosscourt winner for break point. When Monfils dumped a forehand into the net, Stepanek took a 2-1 lead.
In trying to consolidate, Stepanek went down 0-30. However, Monfils obliged with a sleuth of errors to allow the Czech to consolidate for a 3-1 advantage.
Later with Stepanek serving, the skies opened up and a thunderous downpour followed. Once Stepanek returned and completed the game for 4-2, showers came anew.
When play resumed, Monfils appeared more willing to fight and comfortably maintained serve. Yet despite Stepanek’s horrendous 30 percent first serve, Monfils could not capitalize on his second serve.
With Monfils stuck ten feet beyond the baseline and his returns falling short, an aggressive Stepanek proficient at volleying thrived at the net. Consequently, Stepanek easily bedded the first set.
For Monfils, the following set was a duplicate of the previous one. With a backhand volley winner, Stepanek had break point in the initial game. With Monfils’ forehand crosscourt pass finding the net, Stepanek converted.
Next, with an emphatic love game punctuated by his maiden ace, Stepanek raced to a 2-0 lead.
At times, Monfils uncorked his frustration on his racket. The crowd did it’s utmost to lift the Frenchman, however, without success. Despite losing solely two points his subsequent four service games, Monfils could not fabricate a single break point.
Stepanek’s first serve percentage picked up slightly this set at 46, winning 12 out of 12 points. With Monfils’ return not clearing the net, Stepanek had triple championship points.
When Monfils flubbed a backhand, Stepanek claimed his first title since San Jose in 2009. He also became the second oldest titlist. Jimmy Connors hoisted the trophy in 1988 at age 35.
With yesterday’s semifinals completed in the wee hours of the morning, Monfils did not go to sleep until four. Thus, the Frenchman felt the lack of rest made him “a fraction of a step slower. . . [so I] caught the returns late”.
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