By Sharada Iyer
Right before the start of the 2021 US Open, Gael Monfils posted on Twitter, “You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to BREATHE, TRUST, LET GO and see what happens.” This motto’s been working quite well for the Frenchman who’s been at his entertaining best, both on and off the court in the last couple of months.
On the weekend, leading up to the US Open, Monfils shared a TikTok video of his dancing to the song “Gonna Make You Sweat”. His cheerful vibes caught on and while the video itself garnered a million-odd videos, he also received love and support from the tennis community, including his colleagues on the Tour.
With play beginning at Flushing Meadows, Monfils’ transferred this verve of positivity onto the first two rounds, with wins over Federico Coria and Steve Johnson respectively. These two results started Monfils’ odyssey in New York but also added form to the continuation of his journey on the Tour. The latter, not only across this season but also across the 17-odd years of his professional career.
There’s also another takeaway from this burst of Monfils’ on-court vivaciousness. It’s that it’s fittingly come about in a troubled season for the 35-year-old.
Eight months can fleet by quickly on the tennis Tour or they can drag along as though time were on a slow turn. In Monfils’ case, there’s been a blend of both these occurrences, with time first slowing and then picking up pace, as if wanting to distance itself from what’d happened, eighth months ago, in February 2021.
Back then, after losing in the first round of the Australian Open to Emil Ruusuvuori, a tearful Monfils shared in the post-match press conference, “I lost, I have no confidence. I’m playing bad. I can’t serve, I’m making unforced errors, I’m six meters behind the baseline. I don’t feel well and you can see it. I know I’ve lost a lot and it hurts. The worst thing is that I’m working like a dog but it’s not working. I’d like to stand up and tell myself that this nightmare is over but the truth is I don’t know when it will stop.”
Then, replying to a follow-up question about what he would do next to change his fortunes, the former world no.6 added, “…I will give my mother’s simple sentence. She will tell me: ‘We must continue to train and it will come back. This is the only trick.’”
Given that he’d never exited Melbourne Park in the first round in almost 15 years, going back to 2006, and that this loss had come on the back of an extended dry spell of lack of match wins lasting months, Monfils’ breakdown was as though he was done letting external forces dictate terms to him and was finally trying to re-find himself in the cacophony of this surrealism that’d downed his individuality.
These past few months have been about him regaining this lost ground – in terms of perspective – as much as they’ve been about getting favourable results for himself. As Monfils’ continued to do so, time also seems to have sped by, keeping the focus firmly on the present that’s given him more reasons to be upbeat.
This present, then, includes his off-court and on-court milestones. In July, Monfils celebrated his marriage to fellow tennis pro, Elina Svitolina. A month later, at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, he won the 500th match of his career with a win over Alex de Minaur in the second round.
In doing so, he became the 11th player on the ATP Tour to pocket the benchmark number. However, what makes Monfils’ achievement even more special is the fact that he’s the only other Frenchman – the other being Richard Gasquet – to make it to this elite list. Carrying this record onto Flushing Meadows this fortnight, Monfils’ now not only added to this tally but has also extended his streak of reaching at least the round-of-16 at a Major for the 16th consecutive year, going all the way back to 2005 when he first played in the Slams.
Between his mother’s “continue to train” and his “Trust and let go”, Monfils’ making the most of the opportunities as they’ve come his way without worrying about what’ll come next. And with him piling on to his numerical empire along the way, it’s impossible to disagree that this has been a win-win mantra for Gael Monfils’ thriving rediscovery.