Former Indian Wells Masters runner-up John Isner could take advantage of tenth seed Gael Monfils’s lack of form at the BNP Paribas Open when they meet in the third round on Monday.
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Tenth seed Gael Monfils could have an opportunity to make a deep run at the Indian Wells Masters – but he will have to get past former runner-up John Isner first.
There’s no doubt that opportunity is knocking in the top half of the Indian Wells Masters draw this week. It was a lopsided draw from the beginning, with former champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic clustered in the bottom half alongside fourth seed Kei Nishikori, leaving world no. 1 Andy Murray and third seed Stan Wawrinka – neither of whom has ever played well at Indian Wells – in solitary splendor in the top half. But with Murray’s shock defeat to qualifier Vasek Pospisil, and the loss of the seemingly in-form Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to Fabio Fognini, there are just two top-eight seeds in the top half – Wawrinka and eighth seed Dominic Thiem – and neither man has ever won a hard-court Masters title.
In fact, the only man in the top half of the draw who has ever made the Indian Wells final is the 20th-seeded John Isner, who beat Novak Djokovic in the semifinals in 2012 to finish runner-up to Roger Federer, and made the semifinals again in 2014 when he lost to Djokovic.
That 2012 runner-up finish had a major role in propelling Isner to his career-high ranking of world no. 9, but these are no longer the days when Isner looks like a credible possibility to be a consistent top-10 player, although a player with his weapons will always command respect. Currently ranked world no. 22, Isner’s best results in 2016 were runner-up finishes in Atlanta (which he skipped the Olympics to play, and then lost to Nick Kyrgios in the final) and at the Paris Masters, where he benefited from a softening draw to beat ninth seed Marin Cilic in the semifinals and finished runner-up to Murray.
So far in 2017, Isner has been a very unimpressive 4-4, losing twice to his fellow American Steve Johnson – in the second round of Auckland and the first round of Acapulco – to Mischa Zverev 7-9 in the fifth set in the second round of the Australian Open and to another compatriot, Donald Young, in the second round of Memphis, and even dropping a set to world no. 127 Henri Laaksonen during Davis Cup.
Isner, who opened his campaign with a win over lucky loser Mikhail Kukushkin in two tie breaks, is therefore looking for his first back-to-back wins of the season at Indian Wells, where he has made the fourth round on his last two appearances (losing to Djokovic in 2015 and Nishikori in 2016).
John Isner (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
But first Isner has to get past tenth seed Gael Monfils. The French player was so impressive in 2016, demonstrating a seemingly new focus and discipline on court under the tutelage of Mikael Tillstrom and getting great results more or less consistently throughout the year – he won the 500-level Citi Open title in Washington, D.C., finished runner-up in Rotterdam and at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and made the semifinals of the Canada Masters, Tokyo and the US Open, where his performance in a four-set defeat to Djokovic sparked criticism for his tactics but was, at least, an honest attempt to get his first win over the Serb.
Monfils fans, as well as those who just think top tennis is a bit more interesting with the Frenchman playing a starring role, therefore looked to 2017 with optimism – but it’s been a bit quiet so far from ‘La Monf’. At the Australian Open, Monfils made it to the round of 16, but with the exception of a brief flare-up which saw him take a set, was subdued in defeat to eventual runner-up Nadal. He made quarterfinals in Marseille and Dubai, but lost to Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco, and wasn’t selected for Davis Cup after captain Yannick Noah was less than impressed with Monfils’s willingness, or lack thereof, to make himself available in 2016.
Monfils, who has reached three Masters 1000 Series finals – two in Paris and one in Monte Carlo – but never won a title, has a record at Indian Wells that leaves something to be desired: He is 6-8 in the Californian desert, with his eighth appearance in 2016 by far his most successful when he made the quarterfinals before losing to Milos Raonic.
Monfils and Isner have played eight times in the past with the head-to-head evenly poised at 4-4, and this will be their first meeting since the Paris Masters in 2014 (a straight-sets win for Monfils). Their one previous meeting at Indian Wells, which came in 2009, saw Isner – then a wildcard – upset Monfils in three sets and certainly Isner has the advantage when it comes to their mutual histories at this particular event. Monfils has been by far the better and more consistent player in recent years, but hasn’t shown much form in 2017 and this could be a major opportunity for Isner – who hasn’t shown much form so far this year either – to spring a shock on the tenth seed and make the fourth round at the BNP Paribas Open again.