2016 Citi Open: Gael Monfils vs Borna Coric

GAELBOR

A surging Borna Coric will get a chance to take down one of the tournament’s top seeds as he meets Gael Monfils in Thursday’s third round action at the Citi Open. Monfils is seeded second this week and scored his first win since May as he beat Yen-Hsun Lu in straight sets on Wednesday.

(2) Gael Monfils vs (16) Borna Coric
Monfils returned to action for the first time since Wimbledon as he took the court on Wednesday. He ended up with a pretty straight forward route of Yen-Hsun Lu 6-3, 6-2. The second seeded Frenchman looked rock solid, winning 32 of 38 points on serve. He would smash ten aces and never face a break point against the veteran from Tapei. Monfils’ return game was on point as he took nearly half the points from Lu’s serve, breaking him four times on eight opportunities. The match echoed Monfils’ confidence heading into action this week in D.C. The French showman said he felt close to 100 percent and hoped that this tournament would help kick up his fitness level and match level en route to the Rio Olympics.

For Coric, his opener on Wednesday was a continuation from his Davis Cup heroics over the weekend for Croatia. The 16th seed dusted aside Yuichi Sugita 6-4, 6-4. It was a workman like match for Coric who didn’t dazzle, but showed solid play overall. The Croat was broken just once on three chances and really destroyed Sugita’s second serve. Coric would win 21 of 32 points played off his opponent’s second serve as he broke him three times off of ten break chances. It was a good win overall for the 16th seed who faced a quick cross country trip from Oregon on Sunday after helping Croatia defeat the United State in Davis Cup play on Sunday with a gritty four set win over Jack Sock.

Thursday’s third round clash will mark the second time that Monfils and Coric have faced off. Monfils won their lone meeting earlier this year in Rotterdam 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Neither player was totally on their game, but it was the Frenchman who came up with the big points. Monfils saved 10 of 13 break points in that match, while Coric only managed to fight off four of the nine that he faced. Coric’s serve was more of a liability in total as he won just 60 percent of the points off his first serve.

That match featured plenty of baseline rallies and that definitely sheds some light on what to expect in this one. Both players prefer to play along the baseline. Coric has shown in recent times that he can match shot for shot from the baseline with players labelled as being more aggressive or having bigger games. This stuck out in the match against Sock in Davis Cup action, where Coric matched Sock pound for pound off the ground.

Against Monfils, he’ll be tasked with trying to match the unorthodox and often unpredictable ground game from the second seed. That is the tough part for Coric. If Monfils had tendencies, I think the young Croat would have a better shot to break him down over time. Still, this is a winnable match based on what we have seen from Coric just in the last week. He won’t shy away from backhand exchanges and showed some really good shot making from that side. Monfils forehand is a solid and powerful weapon that gives him a bit of an edge over Coric with his backhand not packing as much as far as finishing capability to end points.

What this one could come down to in the ground game is who bails out in rallies. Coric would do well to test the legs of Monfils. If you’re going against someone with only one a handful of matches in the past few months, you want to test their fitness. You also want to test their mental game in making the proper shot selection. That’s an often overlooked aspect of coming back from these layoffs. Match play is what you need to get your timing and rhythm down again and that is what Monfils is looking for this week.

That gives Coric a slight advantage as he arrived here with confidence following the Davis Cup win and did nothing to slow that with the effort against Sugita. The one troublesome part of Coric’s game to me had been his serve and he has to prove that he can get his first serve in consistently and do damage against better returners. He will need that against Monfils whose athleticism on defense and in return will challenge him. Monfils has the better serve of the two, so that will keep the pressure on Coric to match Monfils.

I think the longer this match goes, the better chance Coric might have to catch Monfils fading due to lack of match play. Monfils figures to try to employ some aggressive tactics to keep points short, but of course, Monfils sticking to a game plan isn’t exactly his strong suit. If the Frenchman gets into long rallies with Coric, it could be counter productive to his chance to win if the Croat is hitting cleanly. It’s a bit tough to know the full extent of what Monfils can produce with just one match back, so I definitely believe Coric has a legit shot to pull of the mild upset here. Coric also could be battling some physical and mental fatigue himself from playing some taxing tennis – at least mentally – over he past week.

Coin flip for me due to the variables here. I’ll give Monfils this one, but just barely and a Coric win is certainly not a shocker if it happens. In the end though, I think Coric’s serve might let him down just enough to fall short.

Prediction
Monfils wins in three sets

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