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Gael Monfils


All you need to know about Gael Monfils is encapsulated in the opening rally of this video.

No, your eyes didn’t deceive you. The forehand winner Monfils hammered past Marcos Baghdatis in their second round match at Australian Open 2007 was timed at more than 190km/h.

The commentators, fans and Baghdatis were stunned. Everyone, pretty much, except Monfils, who celebrated with a quick fist pump and simply swaggered along the baseline to take up position for the next point.

It’s all in a day’s work for the flashy Frenchman, who has built a huge fan base thanks to his incredible athleticism, eye-popping power and extroverted on-court persona.

He’s made something of a habit of highlight-reel-worthy tennis at the Australian Open.

Slightly less electrifying, but nonetheless extraordinary, was this 71-shot rally he engaged in with compatriot Gilles Simon last year on Hisense Arena in the third round, a match he ultimately lost 8-6 in the fifth set but which may have been most notable for the can of Coca-Cola he downed at the change of ends.

And that’s what fans love yet coaches and tennis experts at the same time find so maddening – the Frenchman is arguably more famous for his showmanship than his on-court results.

Monfils was a world No.1 junior back in 2004, and came within a whisker of claiming a rare junior Grand Slam after winning the Australian, French and Wimbledon boys’ titles.

Much was expected of him when he made the transition to the professional ranks, and he peaked at a career-high ranking of world No.7 in 2011, three years after reaching the semifinals at Roland Garros. Yet in nine years as a pro, he’s gone beyond the fourth round at a Grand Slam event just four times.

Take, for example, the aforementioned Baghdatis match. The Cypriot was the reigning Australian Open finalist, but Monfils beat him comfortably, only to then lose in the very next round to compatriot Richard Gasquet.

The Frenchman admits that consistency is not his forte. But he’s working on it.

“I need to work hard still,” he said in Doha, an event played just prior to the Australian Open and at which he reached the final before falling to Rafael Nadal.

“It's not that easy I think to keep a good game like this. You need to work every day.”

Going without a coach, he says, could be the key.

“It make me do the thing on my own and also try to build every day like motivation, strong motivation, and believe that I can beat the top player,” he explained.

“Every day is not that easy every day sometime to run, do the gym, and go on the court, but actually I have to do it. So (it) give me more maturity.”

Monfils’ mind may (sometimes) be willing, but the body hasn’t always been able.

For all his physical and athletic prowess, Monfils has suffered an extraordinary amount of injuries throughout his career. His style of play – bending, twisting, contorting, and sliding and skidding on hardcourts – has coincided with a raft of lower limb injuries including sprained ankles, stress fractures of the feet, and injuries to both the left and right knees.

Throw in wrist and shoulder injuries, and it’s contributed to a fair chunk of time on the sidelines for the 27-year-old.

Yet things might be taking a positive turn in 2014.

“It's a good point to say that I feel my body great. It has been a while that I'm injury free and I can move and recover good,” he revealed in Doha.

“I felt much better last year. Then I start to feel much better this year, so hopefully it gonna be going like this for all the season.”

So health is intact, and motivation is high. What of Monfils' form?

Following on from his final run in Doha, he withdrew from the Auckland ATP event citing fatigue. Yet this hasn’t carried on in Melbourne – in his first two matches, he hasn’t dropped a set in ousting young Americans Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock.

Next up is a highly-anticipated third round blockbuster with Nadal, the world No.1 who he pushed to three sets in the Middle East.

But rather than worry about the result, he’s keeping his approach nice and simple.

“For this year I'm just also try to be myself and don't give up any matches,” he said.

“When you're happy I think you have like positive stuff happen, so I try to just be happy and don't even think about any negative stuff.”

Monfils will take on Nadal in the second match of the night session at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014
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