By Jane Voigt
Gael Monfils is probably the most gifted athlete on tour. But he sure frustrates fans.
Brilliant at times and dismally humdrum at others the six-foot-four Frenchman, nicknamed “La Monf,” has done a pirouette at this U.S. Open it seems. He’s working harder, is more efficient and, as a result, more consistent. His reward … he has reached the quarterfinals for the second time in New York without dropping a set along the way.
“Allez!!” the tennis world would scream because the tennis world would like to see this guy go far. He’s entertainment extraordinaire, a legitimate threat to all who face him, and he can dance. Before matches he sometimes listens to Dancehall and afterward Lana Del Rey. On his way onto Arthur Ashe Stadium today he listened to Beyonce’s ‘Partition.’
The fact that he’s played four rounds and has not dropped a set is remarkable. Only Novak Djokovic, the number-one seed, has equaled that feat.
But Monfils doesn’t see his accomplishment as something new, as if a light switch has been hit. That’s the perspective of onlookers, the press, and commentators that utter disparaging phrases such as, If he only lived up to his potential.
“I think every time I’m the same,” Monfils said. “So I will say I’m a bit more lucky than I was maybe sometime in the past. I think I haven’t changed a lot, to be honest.”
This is Monfils’ second quarterfinal of the year, including the French Open. It is also his eighth appearance at the U.S. Open and his 32nd major tournament. He has never won a slam. The farthest he has ever progressed came in 2008 at The French Open. He reached the semifinals and lost to Roger Federer. His highest ranking was No. 7. He is seeded 20.
His win today — 75 76(6) 75 — was facilitated by a less-than expected performance from his opponent, Grigor Dimitrov (No. 7). His normally lethal forehand and serve didn’t work in sync. The weather added stress to both players, too, but they affected the young Bulgarian more. Up 6-3 in the tiebreak, his shot selection was poor and execution even worse.
“It was a very poor match for me,” Dimitrov said. “It was a great stage for me to come out on there on the center court and perform my best. Just everything went the opposite way today.”
Dimitrov was unhappy with the number of unforced errors he committed — 38 — and agreed they aided Monfils’ win.
“I think he defended when he had to,” Dimitrov said. “But if you think about it, I did a lot of unforced errors, especially with my forehand. But he’s an incredible mover.”
Monfils will play the winner of the match between Roger Federer and Roberto Bautista Agut. If Federer defeats Agut in their first meeting and Agut’s first run on Arthur Ashe, which has to be somewhat of an overwhelming experience for any player, the two-seed Federer will be favored. Their head-to-head is 7-2 in favor of Federer. They last played in Cincinnati this summer. The match was a battle and extended three sets, Federer winning.
Federer has said he believes Monfils’ is the most gifted athlete on tour. His movement, his shot selection, and just his explosive power are hard to beat.
But what’s most important to La Monf? “For me tennis is a sport; It’s not a job. Sometime I’m fed up with that [tennis], so just leave it. I care about a match. I don’t care about the other things. I want just to be happy, you know.”