(Writes through with quotes, details)
By Julien Pretot
PARIS, May 29 (Reuters) - Wild card Gael Monfils once again stole the limelight from French compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, finding time for some fun during the serious business of a 6-7 (5) 6-4 7-6 (4) 6-2 second-round win against Ernests Gulbis at Roland Garros on Wednesday.
Monfils, who downed Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych in the first round, dished up histrionics and eye-catching shots, while also managing to film the crowds and crack a joke with his Latvian opponent between sets.
“I asked him (after the third set) ‘Do you feel it’s been dragging on? Don’t worry it’s just gonna last another 90 minutes’,” he told a courtside interviewer.
“I think it made him sick.”
His good run may not last, though, as Monfils is still troubled by a nagging injury that has hampered his career.
“I‘m still that worried, and as worried as I (was) before. And tired. But I don’t want to show it,” he told a news conference.
Later, he added: “My knee is totally broken.”
Earlier, sixth seed Tsonga survived a first-set scare to advance into the third round with a 7-6 (6) 6-4 6-3 win over Finn Jarkko Nieminen.
Tsonga, the last French man to reach a grand slam final at the 2008 Australian Open final, next faces French 25th seed Jeremy Chardy, who beat Spain’s Robert Bautista Agut 6-1 7-5 6-4.
Tsonga saved a set point in the first-set tiebreak but then turned up the power and never looked back on a chilly Court Philippe Chatrier.
He ended the contest on his first match point with a backhand passing shot after less than two hours.
“I suppose I could have produced a better copy book, if you will, less blotchy,” Tsonga told a news conference.
“The person I was playing is an iconic person on the tour and he’s sure as a Swiss clock. Beating him is never easy. Today it was a pretty tall order.”
The real show, however, was next on centre court as Monfils continued his brilliant run.
In the third set, the Frenchman was 5-2 up before letting his opponent force him to a tiebreak he eventually won 7-4 with a jaw-dropping stop volley.
Gulbis was not bothered by Monfils’s antics, saying he had not even heard what his opponent had said to him.
The Latvian, however, could not block out the partisan crowd.
“What can I do? I played a beautiful point, I have 22 people applauding me,” he said with a smile.
Next up for Monfils is Spanish claycourt specialist Tommy Robredo, the 32nd seed.
Julien Benneteau, the 30th seed, beat German Tobias Kamke 7-6 (9) 7-5 5-7 0-6 6-4, having had his left thigh massaged in the fourth set as he set up a third-round meeting with second seed Roger Federer.
It was a good day altogether for the French men as only Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Michael Llodra were beaten in the second round, by 11th seed Nicolas Almagro and 14th seed Milos Raonic respectively.
Gilles Simon, seeded 15th, overcame a sluggish start to overcome Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas 6-7 (2) 6-1 6-1 6-1.
The last French man to win a grand slam singles title was Yannick Noah, who won the French Open in 1983. Henri Leconte was the last French man to reach the singles final at Roland Garros, in 1988. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Clare Fallon and Sonia Oxley)