Three to see: Goffin meets French flair

 - Dan Imhoff

French fans are in for a show of shot-making when La Monf meets La Goff in a huge third-round clash.

David Goffin Gaël Monfils deuxième tour Roland-Garros 2018.
David Goffin v Gael Monfils

Big because …

Two of the most agile athletes with the red dirt under foot, both boast guile in abundance. Expect every dazzling shot and scrambling retrieval to rouse a raucous French crowd. Since well and truly announcing himself with victories over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer en route to the ATP Finals last November, deeper runs at the majors are to be expected from Belgium’s David Goffin. Former world No.6 Gaels Monfils is a perennial favourite before his home crowd and despite having endured a lean start to his season, nothing would spark a turnaround quite like a big upset on a packed stadium court in Paris where the flashy showman has a knack for rising to the occasion.

Head-to-head history

The official head-to-head record reads 2-1 in the Belgian’s favour, but one of those came when Monfils retired trailing a set in their US Open third round last season. They split two prior meetings on hard courts in 2016 – both times going to three sets – and to dig a little deeper, it was Monfils who won a Bordeaux Challenger semi-final on clay 7-5 in the third five years ago.

Form coming in

Goffin posted a solid 9-4 record with two quarter-finals and a semi-final in clay-court events leading in and survived an almighty first-round scare, surging back from two sets down – for just the second time in his career – to beat Robin Haase. He started slowly against French wildcard Corentin Moutet in the second round before reeling off 17 of the last 18 games. Monfils, by contrast, had little to be excited about with a 1-4 record on the clay leading in but after dropping the first set to wildcard compatriot Elliot Benchetrit, he was in full flight in a straight-sets hiding of Martin Klizan.

Roland-Garros history

It’s six years now since Goffin, in his Grand Slam main draw debut, reached the fourth round at Roland-Garros and drew high praise from Federer after taking a set off his idol. Four years later he reached his maiden slam quarter-final in Paris before bowing to Dominic Thiem. Last year, a horror right ankle injury ended his campaign at the third-round. A former semi-finalist and three-time quarter-finalist in Paris, Monfils boasts his strongest Grand Slam record at home with a near-74 per cent winning percentage. In 2017, he fell to Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round.

Tactic duel

Goffin may not match his opponent’s fire-power but he is less prone to a tactical implosion, swimming in the sea of wild errors and bizarre, fluctuating energy levels seen from the Frenchman on occasions. The Belgian can’t hope for a mounting Monfils error count, however, and will not be drawn into the theatrics, attacking on the front foot where possible. Monfils, as always, is a momentum player and will channel the crowd’s energy in an attempt to hit through Goffin.

Madison Keys v Naomi Osaka

Two of the most exciting prospects on the women’s tour meet for the third time on Thursday when American Madison Keys looks to extend a 2-0 record over quirky Japanese star Naomi Osaka. Both have achieved big breakthroughs since their most recent meeting, however. For the pair of power players, it has always been a matter of finding the consistency to match their flashy shot-making. Keys did so to reach her first Grand Slam final at last year’s US Open while an unseeded Osaka came as a bolt from the blue to win seven straight matches and bag the Indian Wells title in March.

Grigor Dimitrov v Fernando Verdasco

Since landing his biggest title to date at the season-ending ATP Finals in 2017, Dimitrov finds himself still searching for that elusive Grand Slam trophy. Chances are it won’t come in Paris but after a gutsy five-set performance, after which he kissed his knees in thanks for helping him wear down Jared Donaldson on Wednesday, the Bulgarian is on the cusp of reaching the fourth round in Paris for the first time. For all his ability on any surface, Roland-Garros remains the only major Fernando Verdasco has not reached the quarter-finals but six fourth-round showings are nothing to sneeze at. All four of the pair’s meetings have gone to three sets with Verdasco winning their sole battle this season in the second round at Indian Wells.