Tennis: Gaël Monfils, the new youth of the veteran



The veteran is still there. By dominating, Sunday, January 23, the Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic (7-5, 7-6, 6-3), Gaël Monfils was invited to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. At 35, a new youth or simply history resuming its course, after a long parenthesis that the main interested party wants to hasten to forget?

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Gaël Monfils doesn’t really like people talking about a new self or a renewed enthusiasm in the twilight of his art, after eighteen years of professional life on the courts. No, “la Monf” (his nickname) has not changed, just found the right settings for a time that failed. And too bad if it took him almost two years of research to find his marks, and above all to cash in on this cursed pandemic which twisted his morale.

A long stalemate

Back in February 2020. He is then at best, Gaël Monfils, signing nothing less than his best start to the season. Two successes in a row, at the Montpellier and Rotterdam tournaments, and a semi-final in Dubai, lost with honors against the giant Novak Djokovic (2-6, 7-6, 6-1). But then comes the Covid-19, the circuit closed for a time, and the tumble. When business resumes, Gaël Monfils does not manage to adapt to tennis under a bubble. What’s the point of playing if he can’t share anything, neither with his loved ones nor with the public absent from the stands? The year 2020, he crosses it like a ghost.

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That of 2021 starts badly from the start: a failure in the first round at the Australian Open against the modest Finn Emil Ruusuvuori. The extent of the damage is measured above all in a press conference, when the Parisian bursts into tears: “I train like a butcher and it doesn’t pass. I would like to get up and say that this nightmare is over, but here I am in it and I don’t know when it will stop. »

Not right away anyway. Even if the player does not give up, and on the contrary dares to question himself. He thus lets go of his coach, the American Liam Smith, with whom he has been working since the end of 2018 and who nevertheless allowed him to regain momentum (a quarter-final at the US Open in 2019). Gaël Monfils prefers the Austrian Günter Bresnik, his experience (ex-coach of Boris Becker, Henri Leconte, and more recently Dominic Thiem) but also his reputation as an iron-handed coach. The collaboration surprises more than one. It does not give immediate results.

Questioning and paid work

After an injury and a package in Monaco, Gaël Monfils does just two short laps and then goes to Roland-Garros, beaten by the Swede Mikael Ymer, 105and global. “ I can do better, I apologize to my fans, who had to watch this”, annoys the Frenchman, who during the summer, however, regains the hair of the beast.

The proof at the US Open, where he is the last Frenchman in the running, even if it is only in the third round. He loses against the Italian Jannik Sinner, but at the end of a marathon match where he finds the enthusiasm of the public and the taste of the castagne. “Deep inside me, there is still a good feeling. It was beautiful. These are matches like that that we want to play”, he commented at a press conference.

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Gaël Monfils is on the right track. He is still frustrated to have to forfeit because of a muscle injury in the round of 16 of Paris-Bercy, where he was to challenge Novak Djokovic, but he feels that his relentlessness is finally paying off. Always in search of novelty, he trains at the end of the year with the Austrian decathlete Dominik Distelberger (19and at the Rio Olympics).

He regains confidence, even enough to change equipment supplier. The 21and worldwide joins Artengo, Decathlon’s tennis brand. It’s a challenge, but obviously paying off. He begins the 2022 season by winning the Adelaide tournament. “Last year, I don’t want to say that I was going to stop my career. But I had lost faith in tennis., he underlines on receiving his 11and trophy on the circuit. Way to warn: the nasty parenthesis is closed.

In Melbourne, Gaël Monfils is in fact faithful to his talent. “If his game is up, he can beat anyone”, said his trainer recently. For the moment, the Parisian has in any case not dropped a single set in four games. Also taking advantage, and finally, of a favorable twist of fate: in the round of 16, it was Novak Djokovic that he could have found on the court. It was finally another Serb that he applied himself to dismiss. Without gamberger, and as a boss. The suit suits him well.

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Like Yannick Noah

Gaël Monfils has qualified for the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the second time. The first was in 2016, and he lost to Canadian Milos Raonic. The Parisian has reached this level of a Grand Slam tournament for the tenth time in his career (including four times at Roland-Garros and four times at the US Open). A journey he shares with Yannick Noah, ten times in the last roller coaster, including two in Melbourne. For the second, in 1990, Yannick Noah had reached the semi-finals, yielding to the future winner, Ivan Lendl.

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