Gael Monfils opens his Rotterdam title defence on Wednesday when he squares off against Portugal's Joao Sousa in the first round.
Gael Monfils vs Joao Sousa is live from Rotterdam from 2:30pm local time/ 1:30pm GMT
Monfils brings title-winning form to Rotterdam, having won last week’s Open Sud de France in Montpellier. The Frenchman lost his opening set in Montpellier against Adrian Mannarino, but he didn’t drop a set after that, beating Norbert Gombos, Filip Krajinovic and Vasek Pospisil, along with Mannarino, en route his ninth career title.
Monfils has spoken about his aim to break into the top-five this season- something he’s never done before- and he’s certainly started on the right path towards that goal. He didn’t make much of an impact at the ATP Cup, beating Cristian Garin and losing to Novak Djokovic, but he had an OK run at the Australian Open, making the fourth round before falling to eventual finalist, Dominic Thiem.
Ranked 29th at the start of last season, Monfils was back in the top ten at the end of the year, following a season when he was champion in Rotterdam, and semi-finalist in Sofia, Dubai, Montreal and Vienna. He also reached the quarter finals of the US Open. He was a match away from qualifying for the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, but he fell just short- a quarter final defeat to Denis Shapovalov at the Paris Masters ending his hopes of qualifying for London for a second time.
Monfils had a very productive February last year, making the semis in Sofia and winning Rotterdam, and he’s already made a perfect start to February 2020 with his title run in Montpellier. The 33-year-old has flourished in his most recent visits to Rotterdam, reaching the final in 2016 (lost to Martin Klizan), and going all the way on his return in 2019, when he took down David Goffin, Andreas Seppi, Damir Dzumhur, Stan Wawrinka and Daniil Medvedev in an excellent week.
Can he stretch his Rotterdam winning streak to six matches when he faces Joao Sousa on Wednesday?
Sousa arrives Rotterdam still seeking his first win of the season. The Portuguese is 0-3 in 2020, having suffered opening round exits in Auckland (lost to Vasek Pospisil), the Australian Open (lost to Federico Delbonis) and Montpellier (lost to Gregoire Barrere).
Dating back to 2019, the 30-year-old has now lost his last six matches, including a qualifying defeat to Alexei Popyrin in Basel last October. Sousa began last year just outside the top 40, but he struggled through the first half of the season, failing to make a quarter final within the first six months. He slipped to 75th in the rankings in May, but got better in the latter half of the year, reaching semi-finals in Gstaad and St. Petersburg. He also made the fourth round at Wimbledon, and quarter finals in Bastad and Chengdu.
The Portuguese put together a 25-28 on the tour last season, and ended the year at 60th in the world- his lowest year-end ranking since 2012.
He has dropped to 68th after his poor start to 2020, and will be looking to address that in Rotterdam this week. He’s got a very tough job though, as he confronts Gael Monfils in Round 1.
Sousa’s big strengths are his movement and a reasonably pacy forehand, but Monfils, in response, is one of the finest athletes on the tour, and is capable of generating a lot more power off both wings. Monfils leads the head-to-head 3-1, and should be able to extend that advantage on Wednesday.