Gael Monfils ... a Gifted Conundrum

By Jane Voigt

January 17, 2013 -- For a player that won three of the four junior grand slams in one calendar year, 2004, Frenchman Gael Monfils has been a disappointment to many. 

After his illustrious teen start -- at The Australian Open he lost one set on his way to the title, and only one set each at Roland Garros and Wimbledon -- he did not hesitate to step on the gas. He leaped to the pro tour that same year. 

Since then he has won 4 ATP career titles. He has not won a major, and at 26 the potential for one seems slim. He has performed best in Paris on red clay, making it once to the semifinals in 2008 and to the quarterfinals the next year and in 2011. 

But when he doesn't play, like he didn’t for most of last year, he is missed by his fans and tour buddies. 

Monfils is charismatic and an enviable athlete. At six-four and 177 pounds, Monfils is as flexible as a buffed-up rubber band. Not only does he dive for balls, he dives flamboyantly. He is not afraid to express his talent through outrageous leaps and resilient, elastic-like recoveries that leave fans on their feet screaming for more.

"'Gael is fun to watch but also fun to play against," Roger Federer said a few years back after Monfils had withdrawn from The Sony Ericsson Open with a hand injury, ESPN reported. "Not just because you win or lose, but because it's exciting."

Gael Monfils loves excitement. He is a showman. He is a free French spirit and has changed coaches frequently to meet goals he probably can't define himself. He left the French Tennis Federation flat at one time to do his own thing, another disappointment from its perspective. No mind ... the French love Monfils despite and because of his unconventionality.

Coupled with that driving will to bounce along a different path, Monfils has suffered a litany of injuries that have heaped sorrow on potential results. His acrobatic, audacious style has had consequences. He has hurt his back, right shoulder, left wrist, left knee, and most recently his right knee. 

Rafael Nadal is one player that can relate to Monfils’ aggressive style of play, and the injuries that spring to life because of it. '''His potential is unbelievable,'" Rafael Nadal said, according to the same ESPN article. "'But similar to me, when you play very aggressive with that flexibility you have more chances to get injured.'" 

Andy Murray agrees that Monfils’ spellbinding style is tops, but wisely added, "'You need to be playing matches if you want to improve in the rankings.'"

Not too long ago, 2011, he reached a career high ranking of #7. But because of his recovery time and lack of tournament results, he came in The Australian Open ranked 86, meaning unseeded. 

This is his eighth Aussie Open and today he advanced to the third round. One more win and he will have matched his best performance -- the round of sixteen -- and the second week of competition. 

Monfils was the player other players didn't want to see in their section of a draw. Not so much anymore. But as Monfils' luck would have it, he drew Alexandr Dolgopolov (#18 seed) in round one this year, and sent the young Ukrainian prodigy home in four wiggy sets.

Today Monfils blew 4 successive match points on double faults before defeating Yen-Hsun Lu, 76(5) 46 06 61 86, as if he took a good old-fashioned Australian walkabout in the middle of the match. 

"It was like, I need to hit an ace because I know it's going to be a double fault for sure," he said in an on-court interview. "It was weird. I think I got a bit lucky in the end."

A bit of luck is a welcomed addition for anyone struggling through a 5-set match at the first major of the season and coming off an injury. The Frenchman served up 29 aces and 23 double faults, a boatload coming in set five. He won 77% of his first serve points, but a paltry 42% of second service points. He rushed the net with success, winning 73% of those points, but also wracked up 72 unforced errors. 

Once done, he turned to his box where his newest coach Chamagne Patrick sat, and did a little hip-hop-action dance. The crowd went oddly silenced, but soon got it ... ah, Monfils, you're back.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013