Australian Open night session matches on Margaret Court Arena have a reputation for entertainment, and Tuesday’s crowd was treated to another spectacle when Frenchman Gael Monfils did battle with Ukrainian 18th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov.
In a match that pitted arguably two of the biggest entertainers in the men’s game against one another, it was the flair of the Frenchman that proved the difference, Monfils recording a 6-7(7) 7-6(4) 6-3 6-3 victory.
It was a happy return to Melbourne for Monfils, who, after spending three and a half months sidelined in 2012 due to an ongoing right knee injury, was making his first appearance in a Grand Slam since his journey to Australia last year.
The 26-year-old, now ranked 86 in the world – a number that is set to head in the right direction over the coming month – said he was happy just to be back out on the court.
“I feel very good, it’s one more win under my belt. He’s a top 20 player so it gives me a lot of confidence ... to come back and then win against a seed,” he said.
Seemingly keen to assert his superiority over his opponent in the fashion stakes, Monfils, sporting a fluorescent yellow sleeveless shirt, got the crowd buzzing early with four consecutive aces in the opening game.
Apart from those early fireworks, it was a tentative start to the match for both players, as they struggled to find their range from the baseline.
Despite the occasional break point, it took a tie-break to separate the pair, with Dolgopolov holding his nerve at the crucial stage.
The second set also went the distance, but this time Monfils took the initiative into the tiebreak, advancing into the net to level at one set all.
From that point, the level of tennis stepped up a gear, with the pair reaching into their respective bag of tricks to muster multiple service breaks at the beginning of the third.
But it was Monfils' superior court coverage that proved the difference, as a sliding backhand passing shot saw him secure a 5-2 advantage. He then made no mistake, serving out the set.
With a jam-packed Margaret Court Arena relishing every rally, Dolgopolov changed the momentum when he took a 2-0 lead at the beginning of the fourth. However, his resurgence was only temporary as Monfils steamed home to take the match in two hours and 45 minutes.
His supporters will be hoping the Frenchman’s renaissance continues when he meet Chinese-Taipei’s Lu Yen-Hsun in the second round.