Gael Monfils - The Grand Slam Winner who Never Was
When you first look at Gael Monfils play, the first thing that comes to your mind is "How has this guy not won a Grand Slam yet?".
A thunderous serve, a phenomenal forehand, a backhand that packs more than just a punch, and breathtaking speed and court coverage that is near-unmatched on tour.
Monfils had a stellar junior career that tops all the members of the Big 4!
In 2004, he accomplished an extremely rare feat of winning 3 Junior Slams in one calendar year, and was later crowned the ITF Youth World Champion that same year.
So where is the shortcoming?
The answer to this question is rather complex, and there isn’t just one way to do it.
It's mostly in his head, though. It's well known that the game of tennis is as much mental as it is physical. The great Novak Djokovic once said "Tennis is a mental game. Everyone is fit, everyone hits great forehands and backhands."
This, perhaps, is where Monfils gets undone most of the time. He tends to lose focus during matches, and one cannot afford do that at the professional level, as matches are decided by a few crucial points – points themselves decided by mental fortitude.
Monfils, himself, has conceded that he tends to relax during matches. In one of his post match interviews, when questioned about giving away a couple of points to his opponent during the match, he said, “For me, tennis is a sport, you know. It’s not a job, it’s a sport. Sometime if I’m fed up with that, just leave it. For me, I don’t know if it’s bad to say it and for sure I will use like bad words in English, but it’s like, you know, I don’t give a (sic) sheet.”
Monfils' reputation on tour is that of an entertainer, one that gives a few flashy and "WOW!!" moments to the crowd.
And to produce those moments, he sometimes resorts to pushing, when, in fact, he should actually be playing attacking tennis, for most of these flashy moments come in points during which he would get to balls that would be unreachable for most others, only to pull off miraculous winners that would put most seasoned shot-makers to shame.
When he does this, it makes him over-reliant on his speed and court-coverage. To talk about his speed, Monfils was considered an athletics prodigy at school and won the French under-13 and under-14 100m championships.
His coach is on record as saying that Monfils could have made the Olympic 100m final, had he pursued it – and he took to tennis instead. Fun fact – the athletic Monfils also is a keen basketball player!
Coming back to his over-reliance on speed, when he does that too much, he puts his body on the line, making himself prone to injuries, as has been the case throughout his career – and it saw him withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals prematurely.
But with age, Monfils is starting to become more focussed, which has showed in his results in 2016.
The Frenchman recorded his best season on tour this year, qualifying for the season ending ATP World Tour Finals for the first time ever, to go along with his first Grand Slam semi-final appearance at the US Open since the 2008 French Open.
He also won the first ATP 500 title of his career in Washington this year, and reached his first Masters final in six years at Monte Carlo, where he lost in three sets in the final to King of Clay Rafael Nadal.
At age 30, Monfils still has a good 3-4 years to give himself a few cracks at winning a Grand Slam, provided he can keep himself fit, both physically and mentally – and that will be key in seeing the player continue to bloom.
Can he win more Grand Slams in the age of the up-and-comer? That will remain the biggest question.