Gael Monfils has had a truly inspiring year of tennis. He notched a title win in Washington, made a Masters 1000 final in Monte Carlo, and has now become one of the newer additions to the Top 10 in world tennis.
On top of that, Monfils is sitting just below his career high ranking of No.7–that was over 5 years ago, so it’s testament to Monfils that he has still hung around, at the age of 30, to try and right the wrongs of his previous years on tour.
Monfils has notoriously been labelled the game’s “big underachiever.” This can be seen with his poor record in ATP Finals (6-19) and the fact that he had only made one Grand Slam semi-final throughout his career until this fortnight–that semi-final was at Roland Garros in 2008.
We are definitely witnessing a more assured, efficient, concentrated, and disciplined Monfils in 2016 and that can be attributed to a number of things. Since Vienna last year, Monfils has been a part of the Good to Great academy, where he linked up with Mikael Tillstrom, and that partnership has come on in leaps and bounds this season. Tillstrom has successfully instilled a winner’s mentality in the Frenchman, which he did not necessarily have in previous years gone by.
Also part of the Good to Great academy is Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman, who guided Wawrinka to Slam success and nearly did the same for former tennis player Robin Soderling.
Although Monfils will always be a showman at heart, Tillstrom has emphasised the importance of pulling off those spectacular, entertaining, ludicrous shots at better moments. In previous years, Monfils would not play to the importance of a point and it let him down in the most significant of matches. He is more businessman-like now, which is a dangerous prospect for the rest of the tour to handle.
So, can Gael Monfils impose his new-and-improved game on the World No.1 Novak Djokovic in the US Open semi-final? I think he can. Djokovic sits comfortably on a 12-0 record against Monfils, but some would contest that by saying that Monfils is a different player than in previous years.
Monfils mirrors Djokovic in a lot of things he does on a tennis court. Monfils can hit offensive shots from defensive positions of the court when you think that he is dead and buried from a point. Monfils is also one of the rare breeds that can challenge Djokovic from an athletic standpoint. The Frenchman is one of the best athletes that the game has ever seen, and for that reason alone, he will be sorely missed when he chooses to hang up his racquet.
It will be intriguing to see whether Monfils chooses to back himself in a physical war of attrition against Djokovic or whether he opts to end the points much quicker–Monfils has many layers to his game that allows him to switch between the two strategies during a tennis match.
This could arguably be one of Djokovic’s toughest matches in a very long time. If Monfils of 2016 shows up, he can give any player the match of their lives.