Monfils wins 1st title in 2 1/2 years, edging Karlovic in DC
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Things were looking bleak for Gael Monfils, a man with a long history of losing tournament finals.
Monfils' opponent in the Citi Open title match, Ivo Karlovic, was about to serve for the championship and had not been broken all week.
Down but not quite out, Monfils came through, breaking Karlovic twice in a span of four service games and erasing a match point while coming back for a 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory Sunday at the Citi Open to earn his first trophy in 2 1/2 years.
"To be honest," Monfils said, "today was pure luck."
Well, maybe, but he deserves credit for figuring out a way to do enough to neutralize the big serve of the 6-foot-11 Karlovic, who was trying to become, at age 37, the oldest man since 1973 to win ATP singles tournaments in consecutive weeks.
"Normally I should have (won). I was better in the first two sets, and I didn't use my opportunity," Karlovic said. "And then after that, I was dead. I couldn't move anymore."
In the women's final, No. 7-seeded Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium won her fifth WTA singles title, beating 122nd-ranked Lauren Davis of the U.S. 6-4, 6-2. Wickmayer became the third woman to win the singles and doubles championships at the same event in 2016.
Monfils, a Frenchman seeded No. 2, had lost 19 of 24 career finals, and 8 of his last 9. But this time he earned $348,200 in prize money for his first title since February 2014 at Montpellier, France, and the most important of his career - his first at an ATP 500 tournament, which refers to the ranking points the champion collects.
He noted that he was proud to join Arthur Ashe and Yannick Noah as winners in the U.S. capital whose names are etched on the blue awnings around the main stadium.
"They've been an inspiration for me," Monfils said. "I grew up with those names. Definitely to have my name next to them, it's priceless."
Didn't look as if he'd get that honor.
Up until 5-4 in the second set, when Karlovic served for the victory, the 13th-seeded Croatian had won all 53 service games in the hard-court tournament.
"I still had this little hope. ... 'Maybe he will get tight a little bit.' And obviously, he got tight a little bit," Monfils said.
He converted his seventh break point of the match when Karlovic pushed a forehand volley long. Karlovic put his hands on his hips, knowing he'd come so close to ending things right then and there.
Karlovic then was a single point from victory at 6-5 in the ensuing tiebreaker, but a 116 mph serve by Monfils produced a backhand return that sailed long. A couple of points later, Monfils owned that set, and he broke again to lead 2-1 in the third.
Soon enough, Monfils ended Karlovic's eight-match winning streak, which included a title last week on grass at Newport, Rhode Island.
Not since 43 years ago, when Ken Rosewall won back-to-back events a month shy of his 39th birthday, has a man older than Karlovic won two ATP titles in a row.
Karlovic's intimidating serve can take over a match. With the temperature nearing 100 degrees Sunday, it made for even tougher conditions for Monfils to try to deal with those high-bouncing serves.
Monfils, who is 29, tried a bit of everything.
At the outset, he stood way back to return, to no avail, dropping 18 of the first 19 points Karlovic served (the lone exception was a double-fault).
Occasionally, Monfils would shuffle back and forth behind the baseline while awaiting serves.
And later, he moved much closer to the baseline while receiving, a tactic that seemed to help.
But the real secret to Monfils' success might simply have been that Karlovic wore himself out with his net-rushing tactics.
"At the end," Monfils said, "I knew a little bit that it's tough to serve-and-volley for 2 hours in the heat."
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