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Gael Monfils vs. Roger Federer will be a battle of contrasting styles

Roger Federer celebrates after winning the fifth game

Roger Federer celebrates after winning the fifth game of the third set against Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth-round match on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 during the U.S. Open Tennis Championships at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Again Tuesday, theatrical Frenchman Gael Monfils demonstrated that he brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the professional tennis scene. And Tuesday night, the eternally chic Roger Federer once more put on display a lavish game to kill for.

Taken together, they could start their own version of Fashion Week at the U.S. Open.

Monfils shut down rising Bulgarian star Grigor Dimitrov in a fourth-round matinee, 7-5, 7-6 (6), 7-5, before Federer showed his latest look -- serve-and-volley -- in dismissing Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the evening, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

That sets up a Monfils-Federer quarterfinal Thursday. Possibly worthy of a red carpet.

There was other men's action Tuesday. No. 14 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia outlasted No. 26 Gilles Simon of France, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, over 4 hours and 13 minutes. And No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic ousted 45th-ranked Austrian Dominic Thiem, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

But for pure spectacle, consider Monfils, who mixes an extravagant athleticism with some mystifying quirks. He is the rarity who travels the pro tour without a coach, and radiates lurching moods of intensity and nonchalance.

He was grumbling to the umpire as Dimitrov rallied from 2-4 in the second set to reach the tiebreaker, but insisted he only was unhappy with "myself." Mid-match, Monfils grabbed a Coke and held it high, saying that he was directing the toast at his agent, "because every time, I make him smile."

He described himself as "always a relaxed person," but expressed moments of frustration. "It's nothing against anyone," he said, and added that, when he was acting out a bit, he was "sorry for Grigor because I was in front and he was, like, 'Just serve.' "

Monfils argued that "for me, tennis is a sport, you know; it's not a job," but said, "sometimes I get fed up. Just leave it. I mean, I care about the match. I don't care about other stuff. If I'm not happy, it's OK."

A lot could be lost in the translation, with Monfils speaking in his second language. But what seemed pretty clear was Monfils' eagerness to play Federer. "He's definitely the legend of tennis," Monfils said. "No matter what, I will say to my children, 'I played against him.' And this is cool."

Just as obvious was the even-keel near-perfection of Federer. Line-seeking groundstrokes, charging volleys, looping lobs, effortless defense. Federer repeatedly attacked Bautista on both his own serve and Bautista's, going to the net 52 times to score a third of his points there.

Whenever Bautista got a glimpse of an opening, Federer quickly shut him down, saving six of the seven break points Bautista had. Federer again acknowledged how pleased he was with his success in implementing his emphasis on aggression.

"I used to serve and volley when conditions were quicker in the past and my baseline play wasn't as good," he said. "It requires a lot of agility and explosiveness, and I'm happy I have it back. Also, you have to anticipate some and read some."

The victory moved Federer into a tie with Pete Sampras, also a five-time Open champ, for the tournament's best career winning percentage: .887 (both with 71 wins and nine losses).

Monfils? "One of the most exciting and entertaining players out there," Federer said.

New York Sports