The Times January 11, 2006
Monfils ready to rival Murray in courting glory
By Neil Harman
The French prodigy has an aggressive approach
that has catapulted him into the world's top 25
GAËL MONFILS was asked if he had spotted a weakness in Roger Federer’s game during their set-to in the final of the Qatar Open in Doha on Sunday. “Speak up,” Andy Roddick chipped in. Monfils, smiling shyly, whispered “maybe a leetle beet
”, but was unwilling to expand in a public forum.
Monfils, a 19-year-old of Guadeloupe/Martinique stock, is the French rookie in the field for the AAMI Classic at Kooyong, the annual warm-up for the Australian Open that, this year, contains five of the world’s top ten, including Federer and Roddick. Monfils was the high riser inside the top 30 this week, climbing to No 25 in the Indesit ATP world rankings.
Suggesting that he is France’s answer to Andy Murray does both men a disservice, but when the competition is scoured for players challenging Murray to break through into the hierarchy, Monfils has to be accorded a prime place
He is a year farther down the road of experience than Murray, he has won his first tournament — in Sopot, Poland, last August — and has reached two further finals with risk-takingly ferocious tennis, in contrast to the web-spinning that ensnares so many of Murray’s opponents. Murray will fascinate a crowd, Monfils will leave them breathless.
It is appropriate that a 6ft 3in player, who is all artistic arms and legs and covers the court like a basketball pro, draws his inspiration from Arthur Ashe
and that his style is reminiscent of Yannick Noah
, both of whom dared to be unconventional and earned the admiration of the world
There is some way to go before Monfils can emulate either of those men and at the introductory rites at Kooyong yesterday — Monfils was playing Roddick in the second of the first day’s round-robin matches — he was seated at one end of the table while Federer held court in the middle. But you could see that Monfils was listening to every word and catching every nuance
As Thierry Champion, his coach, said: “For Gaël to play Federer in the final was just perfect for him. Before the start of the tournament, he was nervous, as nervous as I had ever seen him, especially as he practised for six weeks in the winter much better than last year. Then he wins four matches, not playing his best tennis, but winning. And so he plays Federer. It showed him so much. I can tell him what his weaknesses may be, but when Federer shows you, it means something more. When Federer started to use his slice, Gaël did not know how to respond.
Monfils led 5-3 in the second set tie-break before Federer unleashed four successive winners in less than a minute. Match over.
But there is so much to work on between the partnership of Champion, a French Open quarter-finalist in 1990, and Rémi Barbarin, fitness trainer for the French Federation on permanent secondment to Monfils.
Champion could not be more enthused about what may lie in store. “When you talk about a heart, he has a heart this size,” he said, spreading his arms wide. “He gives so much of himself on the court, the people love him for it. His way of seeing tennis is different, he has his own culture.
“He is influenced very much by Yannick. I rang him two weeks ago — he was playing video games as usual — and told him he was missing a documentary about Yannick’s life on TV. Gaël immediately watched it and next day he was very emotional.
When we first started together 18 months ago, he wanted to be the best within a month. I said we should give it three years
“Last year he didn’t do well in the grand slams — our aim is to reach the second week of one of them this year
. The ranking will take care of itself. I think guys like Gaël and Murray will be top 20. They do not fear but have a great respect for each other’s talents
. And they are both people to believe. Gaël never tells a lie; even when he does something I have told him he shouldn’t, he tells me the next day.”
And there is no avoiding the truth in the promise that is Gaël Monfils.
Merci, Julie, pour l'interview Gael-Richard! C'etait tres amusant a lire, surtout: "Richard: Bon, on sait qu'on est meilleur que Nadal, c'est le principal