WASHINGTON -- Unseeded Czech veteran Radek Stepanek stunned top seed Gael Monfils, beating the flashy Frenchman 6-4, 6-4 to win the 2011 Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, DC.
The ATP 500-level title is the biggest of Stepanek's career, his previous four titles all coming at smaller tournaments (Rotterdam in 2006, Los Angeles in 2007, and Brisbane and San Jose in 2009). The win improves Stepanek's career record in finals to 5-7.
The loss worsens Monfils' career record in finals to a lowly 3-11, a shockingly bad mark for someone who has spent so much time in the upper echelons of the sport.
Monfils admitted after the match that his fatigue played a role in the loss. Monfils had less than 15 hours to recuperate between his rain-delayed three-set marathon Saturday semifinal with John Isner (which ended at 1:15 a.m.) and Sunday's final. Stepanek's straight-set semifinal win over Donald Young ended 10 hours before Monfils' finished.
Unsurprisingly given the circumstances, Stepanek came out of the blocks with far more jump than the normally energetic Monfils. In only the third game, Stepanek converted the first break point of the match, forcing an error from Monfils with a deep backhand down the line to take a 2-1 advantage.
Stepanek held through the rest of the set, before and after a lengthy rain delay at 4-2. Stepanek closed out the set at 6-4 with an ace out wide, his first ace of the match.
Perhaps carrying momentum from the ace, Stepanek broke immediately to open the second set, forcing another error from Monfils on break point for a 1-0 lead. The two break points he converted on were Stepanek's only break points of the match.
Stepanek's attacking style kept Monfils from holding a single break point opportunity in the match, with the Czech following in well-placed serves and finishing points at net whenever possible. Stepanek only made 37% of his first serves in in the match, but was able to win all but two points when his first serve landed in.
After putting an easy forehand volley into the net on his first championship point, Stepanek finished the match moving forward yet again, closing out the best week of his career with a 6-4, 6-4 upset. Stepanek exulted by doing the worm, his trademark celebration.
Stepanek will move up roughly 30 places in the ATP rankings with the title, from No. 56 to approximately No. 26. He will almost certainly be seeded at the US Open.
"It's great feeling to have, when they are scared to play you." Stepanek laughed.
I asked Monfils after the match about why he was so unable to do anything the Stepanek serve, which has never been seen as one of the stronger serves in the game.
SBN: Gael, you didn't have a break point in this match, but you haven't mentioned his serve yet as one of the things he was doing well today. Why do you think you were unable to make a dent on his serve games?
Gael Monfils: Yes, I think I was a fraction slower, so I was maybe seeing the ball a fraction late. I think I didn't do aggressive enough returns on his first serve. It's the conservative [in me]. I wasn't into it. I just, like, rolled the ball into the middle of the court. Same on the second serve, just rolled the ball, and gave him time to come to the net.
It's easy to say, but when you're in the match, like me, it was tough to change it.
Monfils also didn't think there was much significance to his lowly 3-11 career record in ATP finals.
"I feel, to be honest, I'm unlucky," Monfils said. "Because every time I have something like last year when I twist my ankle, and today I finished at 1:15 a.m. I never had, like, a chance to have a good rest and be on the court."
After his press conference ended, Monfils went back onto the stadium court to play soccer.
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