Gael Monfils, this is your time.
It’s been a long time coming, too, even though the Frenchman is only 22 years old.
Much was expected of Monfils when-as an 18-year-old-he rolled through the juniors to win the first three Grand Slams of the year (the Australian Open, the French Open, on Wimbledon). He was supposed to be the next big thing for France, and possibly even for all of tennis. And who could deny the hype? Not only had he won three junior Slams; he won them on three different surfaces.
Monfils soared from 926th in the rankings at the beginning of 2004 to 239th by the end of the year. In 2005 he jumped all the way to No. 30 in the world and finished the season as the third-ranked Frenchmen. He also captured his first-and to this day, only-ATP title, but failed to astound at any of the Grand Slams. Monfils enjoyed somewhat of a breakthrough the following year by reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros, but that’s when the one thing that has plagued his career more than anything else first struck. Injuries sidelined Monfils for a significant amount of time at the end of 2006, and while he had achieved a career-high ranking of No. 23 briefly, he ended the season at 46th. Another injury kept him out of last year’s U.S. Open (among other tournaments) and he finished his 2007 campaign only eight spots higher at No. 38.
An inauspicious-yet familiar-start to 2008 saw Monfils miss the Australian Open with physical problems. Surely his followers were already moaning and groaning that this would be another season in which Monfils’ talent and potential would go unfulfilled.
Not so fast, my friends. At long last, Monfils is armed with a clean bill of health, a new coach (Lleyton Hewitt’s former coach, Roger Rasheed), and a new and improved game. Despite not being able to resume playing until March-and not winning a single match until the very end of that month-Monfils is up to 18th in the world, 16th in the 2008 race, and he has an outside shot at qualifying for the year-end Masters Cup (he needs to win at least one-if not both-of the two Masters Series events). He reached the semifinals of the French Open, the quarterfinals of the Olympics, the fourth round of the U.S. Open, the semifinals in Bangkok, and the final in Vienna. He’s won three matches this week in Madrid to make a quarterfinal appearance. That’s a heck of a streak dating back to late May.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the style in which he has posted those awesome results. Always one of the fastest and most athletic players on tour (some say unequivocally that he is #1 in both of those departments), Monfils is now adding some serious offense to his arsenal.
If you have been watching the past two weeks (Vienna and Madrid), you know what I’m talking about. His serve is a flat-out weapon now, and his forehand has to be one of the most underrated shots in tennis. He no longer plays points like he is allergic to the baseline, or, for that matter, the net. This new offensive outburst transforms Monfils from a player who nobody ever wanted to play, to a player who is downright nightmare on the other side of the net.
Andy Murray, it’s your time to try your hand against him on Friday in Madrid.
Gael Monfils, this is your time.