Gael Monfils squeaks through in Dubai as Stefanos Tsitsipas cruises onward

Gael Monfils of France returns the ball to Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis during the ATP Dubai Tennis Championship in Dubai. (AFP)
Updated 28 February 2019

Gael Monfils squeaks through in Dubai as Stefanos Tsitsipas cruises onward

  • Unseeded Monfils, 32, revealed that he needed to get angry with himself to get over the line
  • Tsitsipas made easy work of his Polish opponent Hubert Hurkacz

LONDON: 

Gael Monfils’ charmed run at the Dubai Championships continued on Thursday after he battled into the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 win over lowly qualifier Ricardas Berankis.
The Frenchman, who came into the tournament off the back of beating Stan Wawrinka in Rotterdam earlier this month to win an eighth career title, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday’s semifinal after an unexpectedly tight win.
Unseeded Monfils, 32, revealed that he needed to get angry with himself to get over the line after missing chances to close out a straight-sets victory when a set up and leading the second 5-4.
“It was tough mentally, I was upset that I didn’t finish it (then). I had to get angry to find the energy to come back,” he said after coming from a break down to storm the final set.
“I was playing flat, I knew I had to do something.
“My opponent was very brave, he went for his shots, came to the net and made it difficult.”
Monfils’ performance dipped drastically after ripping through the opening set in 23 minutes, losing the second and re-discovering his game only just in time to claim the victory.
In the end it took nearly two hours for the world No. 23 to beat Berankis, ranked 113 in the world and playing his first quarter-final since October.
“It started to get a bit windy. He went for different shots and he was getting more on the line.
“I think I got a little bit away from my game plan, but he did make brilliant shots, it was a mix of everything.
“He hit the ball big, he was quick, it was amazing how quick he was on to all my passing shots. 
“I felt he was there all the time. I think I’m quite good, but it was quite tricky for me,” he added.
Also on Thursday, man of the moment Tsitsipas made easy work of his Polish opponent Hubert Hurkacz, the man who vanquished Kei Nishikori in the previous round.
The Greek wonderkid was frustrated at not having won in straight sets but his progress through to the semifinals was never in doubt once into the final set.
“That was frustrating, but I knew that the crowd enjoyed the match. They probably wanted to stay a bit longer.
“His serve dropped, and his first-serve percentages, giving me the opportunity and possibility to be more aggressive and start the rallies.
“I was serving a bit better, maybe opening the court, being aggressive. When I broke him the first time, I showed him that I’m still in the match, I still want to break him more. 
“I guess that mentally, he saw the dominance of his opponent, that affected him probably. That’s how I felt,” he said.
On his semifinal opponent Monfils, he said he knew his service game had to be perfect.
“We’re both serving really well, we have similar game style.
“I guess I’m a bit more aggressive than him, but he’s much faster and I’m going to have to deal with all of that, be patient, play with passion as well, just wait for the opportunities to break him.
“I think I’m going to have to serve well to win that match, if I don’t serve well, I’ll have trouble.”
There’s added incentive for Tsitsipas going into the game, knowing a victory in Dubai would see him move into the top 10.
“I’m thinking about it almost every day, I want it badly and I want it to happen very much.
“I know I’ll have to win a couple of crucial matches to get there as the point difference is pretty big, I’m going to have to dominate more.
“It’s a good motivation because I’m so close, to get it as early as possible.
“For me, personally, I feel like I have the game to be there already, maybe even in the future, but (I hope) as soon as possible,” he said.


Saudi pro golfer takes cue from Tiger to hold nerve for big tournament

Updated 28 January 2020

Saudi pro golfer takes cue from Tiger to hold nerve for big tournament

  • Othman Almulla says ‘I have to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, and I’m ready for that’

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first and only professional golfer has been taking his cue from one of the game’s greatest players, Tiger Woods, when it comes to controlling tournament nerves.

Othman Almulla believes that getting his debut year under his belt has enabled him to cope with the kind of pressure he will face when he plays alongside his idols at this weekend’s Saudi International.

The 33-year-old, who will tee it up at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) on Thursday in the tournament that kick-started his pro career 12 months ago, said: “Tiger Woods is the best golfer on the planet and he says the day he doesn’t feel nervous on the first tee is the day he’ll stop playing golf.

“I take respite in that – knowing that if he’s the best player in the world and he feels nervous, then it’s okay for me to maybe feel a bit of that too!”

Almulla’s breakout year as a member of the MENA Tour has taken him across the fairways of the Middle East and as far afield as the UK, allowing him to develop his game as he chases an ambition of earning a place alongside the household names of golf on the coveted European Tour — while also dreaming of one day competing at the Olympic Games.

He will play alongside the greatest golfers in the world at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers — including world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, US powerhouse and defending tournament champion Dustin Johnson, and a host of Ryder Cup stalwarts and major-winning golfers.

Such opposition for any golfer would represent a fairly intimidating homecoming, but Almulla is adamant that the lessons he has learned in his first year on tour will help him keep cool, calm, and in the zone, allowing him to perform to the level he knows he is capable.

He said: “It would be very, very easy to be put in an uncomfortable position playing alongside and against the best golfers in the world. But you have to be comfortable in that uncomfortable position, and that’s what I’ve learned in this last year.

“Yes, they are the best golfers in the world, but we’re all trying to make it; I’m trying to achieve my goals and so are they. I take it as a learning experience, and that’s the most important thing.

Overall, I think it’s all about reminding myself how great an opportunity this is, and that there’s people supporting me regardless of how I play this week. The big thing is to learn from the experience.

Othman Almulla

“These players are at a much higher level than I am, but that’s the level I want to get to. All I can do is go out there, do my best, and hope that the work I’ve put in this year will put me in a position to compete.

“Overall, I think it’s all about reminding myself how great an opportunity this is, and that there’s people supporting me regardless of how I play this week. The big thing is to learn from the experience,” Almulla added.

His first year as a professional has allowed him to fly the Saudi flag at tournaments in such countries as Morocco, Oman, the UAE, the UK, Bahrain and Jordan.

His on-course highlight was his final MENA Tour event of last season at Ras Al-Khaimah, in the UAE, where he birdied the last three holes to make the cut, then shot 65 on the final round to go from last place on the cut to 23rd — an experience he described as “unbelievable.”

“My game is feeling really good. It’s such an honor for me to represent Saudi internationally. Now it’s time for me to give back and hopefully start performing at a higher level.

“I’m 100 percent ready to push on to reach that. I’m putting things in place day-by-day, month-by-month, tournament-by-tournament that are going to let me show signs of what I can do in the game of golf and what I can really achieve,” said Almulla.

“That continues at the Saudi International, where I want to put in a couple of competitive rounds. If I do that and play how I know I can play, then hopefully I’ll make the weekend. That’s the goal.

“My aim is then to hopefully show a bit of form this year. I want to have a high finish on the MENA Tour Order of Merit, which will then give me opportunities of playing on some of the bigger tours.

“Within the next two years I would like to get either an Asian Tour card or a European Tour card, that’s the main-main goal, and, for the decade, what I really want to do is play in the Olympics. That’s a massive dream of mine,” he added.