WHAT HAPPENED: Few matchups on an order of play will excite a US Open fan more than Gael Monfils, one of the game’s most entertaining players, and Court 5, one of the most intimate settings on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The Frenchman did his best to meet those giddy expectations on Tuesday. If anything, in fans’ eyes, Monfils was maybe a little too businesslike against Argentine Facundo Bagnis, staying on task to dismiss the qualifier 7-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-0.
It was Monfils’ first hard-court match since Indian Wells in March, when he retired in the third round because of a back injury, which, along with a left hamstring injury, have forced the 31-year-old to miss six tournaments this season, including Toronto and Cincinnati, the two ATP Masters 1000 tournaments held during the lead-up to the Open.
But Monfils, who last played a month ago on clay in Hamburg, showed few signs of rust against Bagnis, who qualified for the main draw and was bidding for his first win in New York (now 0-3). Monfils faltered while serving for the first set at 5-4 but recovered behind big serving in the tiebreak. Bagnis rallied and broke twice in the second to even the match.
Photos: Gael Monfils defeats Facundo Bagnis
But, in front of a standing-room only crowd on Court 5, Monfils was his crafty self, taking the tennis to Bagnis and pinning the clay-court maven behind the baseline. It was a sprint to the finish: Monfils won the final two sets in 47 minutes as Bagnis sprayed 22 unforced errors.
WHAT IT MEANS: Can Monfils recreate his stellar run into the 2016 US Open semifinals?
A year ago, Monfils was limping to the finish of his injury-shortened 2017. The Frenchman had to retire against David Goffin in the third round in New York with a season-ending right-knee injury. On Tuesday, however, Monfils, after sitting out all of the US Open Series before now, was darting around the court, chasing airy drop shots and sprinting from side to side against Bagnis, who had little that could trouble the French veteran.
MATCH POINT: The heat rule was in effect during their first-rounder. Both players took a 10-minute break after the third set.