Like many players in 2017, Gael Monfils had to end his season much earlier than he expected, missing all the post-US Open action due to right knee injury. He returned in Doha, ready to play on a high level again, and he won his 7th ATP title, the first since Washington 2016.
In the final, his 27th on the Tour, Gael toppled young Russian Andrey Rublev 6-2 6-3 in just 61 minutes to open his 2018 campaign in the best possible way. The Frenchman prepared a great strategy for this match, defending well against powerful forehands from Rublev and outplaying him in the service winners area and also in the unforced errors department.
In his three matches before the final (Dominic Thiem gave him a walkover in the semis) Monfils stood almost a meter behind the baseline in the rallies and he moved even further back against the Russian, standing some two meters deeper to control the exchanges and tame his rival's attacks with ease.
Andrey couldn't find the way to penetrate Gael and to create an open space with his groundstrokes, with an exceptional court coverage from Monfils. Rublev was the one who had to take the risk and he paid a huge prize, committing too many unforced errors and not getting enough free points from his serve as well.
As always, tennis is a game of fine margins and we saw that in this match as well, with Gael saving both break points he faced and converting three out of four he earned on the other side to score a commanding triumph in just over an hour.
The Frenchman made the difference with his first serve, hitting 23 service winners and leaving Rublev on 12. They both had seven forehand winners and that wasn't enough for the youngster to create the gap, ending the match with just two winners more overall, 11-9.
On the other hand, Andrey sprayed 17 unforced errors, 14 from his forehand, while Gael controlled his groundstrokes beautifully, staying on just five unforced errors in the entire match. Rublev did manage to force some mistakes from Monfils but an 11-6 lead that department couldn't bring him the more positive result.
Gael kicked off the match with four service winners and Andrey added three direct points in game two to get his name on the board as well. Rublev won two points on the return in game three but Gael hit another four winners to move 2-1 in front, standing with already seven service winners on his tally.
The Russian was the first who faced troubles on serve, making three swift errors to offer Gael two break points and the Frenchman converted the first after a 25-stroke rally to open up a 3-1 gap. Monfils stood far behind the baseline and Andrey was unable to find an open space, sending his forehand into the net to find himself a break down.
Three errors from the youngster sent Monfils 4-1 up and Rublev finally ended his downfall with a hold at love, reducing his deficit to 4-2. Gael was in a great rhythm in his games, hitting three service winners in game seven and closing the opening set with another break in game eight after just 22 minutes.
Andrey's shots were all over the place in the opening set and he sprayed four mistakes in that last game to find himself a set down and with a lot of work to be done in set number 2 if he wanted to get back on the scoreboard.
Monfils had 11 service winners compared to six from Rublev, who had three winners from the court while Gael stayed on just one. On the other hand, the Russian committed eight unforced errors and Monfils stayed on just two, controlling his shots beautifully and waiting for the loose shots on the other side of the net.
Gael had five forced errors, two more than his opponent, but that couldn't change anything on the court. Andrey won just six points on the return in the opening set and he managed to improve that immediately when the second set began, reaching three deuces before Gael held with a forehand winner right after the serve.
Things looked even better for the Russian after four winners in game two and he needed them badly to in order to raise his confidence and shots. Gael held in game three with three service winners and he moved in front with a break in game four for a 6-2 3-1 lead.
Rublev opened the game with a double fault and three forehand errors cost him dearly, betrayed by his biggest weapon and with a mountain to climb in front of him if he wanted to get back on the scoreboard. He was on the right path in game five when he finally linked together a few good returns to create two break points.
Gael erased them with a 15-stroke rally and another one with 14 shots, wrapping up a game with a service winner to stay in front and keep the momentum. Both players held without problems in the next three games, leaving Monfils to serve for the win in game nine.
The Frenchman delivered a strong game, hitting three service winners to clinch his first title in the year and a half. He had 12-6 advantage in service winners in this part of the match and they were on the level terms in the winners from the field, with eight for each.
Just like in the first set, Andrey had more unforced errors, 9-3, and he forced 6 mistakes from Gael while he stood on 3. We saw some better tennis from the Russian in the second set but it wasn't enough to keep him in touch longer, unable to pull the break back and to prolong the encounter against the solid rival who was very pleased with the way he performed after such a long break.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: