Gael Monfils of France served 15 aces to beat James Blake of the US 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 in the first round of the US Men’s Clay Court Championships on Monday.
Blake, once ranked No. 4, played his 51st match at River Oaks Country Club in Houston, where he is a crowd favorite, but Monfils won cheers for his performance in his first match in the city.
Monfils, who played in only 10 tournaments last year because of a knee injury, matched the sixth-highest total of aces in the tournament. He will next face top-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain.
Rhyne Williams of the US, playing on a wild card, beat Guido Pella of Argentina 7-5, 7-5 in an earlier first-round match.
Monfils broke Blake in the 11th game of the second set on three straight errors by the American and wrapped it up quickly with a love final game that included two aces. He won on the first match point on Blake’s backhand error.
“I am 100 percent with the level the way I played,” Monfils said. “I was happy the way I was moving. I can say it’s a nightmare [injury] behind me so I am very happy.”
Blake held after six break points in the eighth game of the first set, but his serve failed him in the 10th game and the set eventually went to a tiebreaker.
The score was tied at 3-3 in the tiebreaker when Monfils won three straight points and then capped the set with an overhead at set point.
“He really makes it tough out there,” Blake said. “He makes you work hard to win points and combining that with a pretty big first serve. When that’s going in, that makes a big difference.”
Monfils applauded the crowd after his win, but said he didn’t hear their cheers during the match.
“It’s been four weeks since I played so I was more focused on winning this match and hoping there was no more pain,” Monfils said. “The crowd was very fair today. I knew it would be tough because James is a big favorite here.”
GRAND PRIX HASSAN II
AP, CASABLANCA, Morocco
Former top-five player Tommy Robredo of Spain and Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia won the only first-round matches at the Grand Prix Hassan II on Monday.
Robredo, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 5 in 2006 and is now at No. 72, beat Guillaume Rufin of France, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
The 85th-ranked Kavcic eliminated Moroccan wild card Mehdi Ziadi 6-2, 6-4 and will next face top-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, the 2010 champion.
Two-time defending champion Pablo Andujar, ranked 56th, opens against a qualifier.
The red-clay tournament is entirely funded by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and is the only ATP World Tour stop in Africa.
Two Moroccans have won the title in their home country: Hicham Arazi in 1997 and Younes El Aynaoui in 2002.