as I promised.... Gael in Sopot... I know it's so unprofessional text but I spent only one hour on that and the good texts need much more time... but as I'm an amateur who doesn't speak English too well, this should be quite ok. Ahh and I didn't attend the press conferences but my roommate did
„Stand up!” - now is the time for Gael Monfils
After having a first look at the entry list to the ATP International Series in Sopot, it would be difficult to be not impressed by seeing names like Coria, Gaudio, Puerta, Moya signed to this little claycourt event. But as the tournament started, day after day local crowd hearts were being conquered by a 18 yeared black Parisian, Gael Monfils.
Every Champion has his champion
The Monfils' march of triumph began on that beautiful sunny Tuesday on the court number one, in front of the eyes of this kind of people who were too late to get a ticket for a central court show between Coria and Kuerten. The opponent of the young Frenchmen (who's just skipped Umag and earlier collected quite a few bad losses) had to be an experienced quallificant – Juan Antonio Marin of Costa Rica. Did it sound thrilling, as you never knew, what to expect from Marin on clay? No, it sounded surprisingly tempting, remembering that the initial rival, Gaston Gaudio (seeded 2), decided to withdraw in the last moment. Of course, we'd never learn how could our hero's mental attitude to the match versus Gaudio look like, but Marin got simply demolished 6/0 6/4. The first set made the match already... set.
Strong looking Monfils was ready to face the last year's semifinalist, Juan Mónaco (Argentina). It was a great occasion to perform by the full stands on the central court. Long, incredibly quick legs helped the Frenchman to reach every strong Mónaco's shot and send even better answer. The Argentine was forced to risk a lot, and to admit honestly, he did it with grace, but what to say then about so easily looking shots back presented by the young king of an offensive defense? The final score was 6/4 7/6. It takes a reflection... was it his young age, the nationality (French people are always happily welcomed in Poland) or the too loose yellow Nike T-shirt, that helped him to gain the audience's sympathy?
Gael Monfils was scheduled to play the last quaterfinal on Friday, against Victor Hanescu (Romania). It was the late hour, when all the VIP's (and all the other „fans” who gathered in Sopot just because it's posh to be there) left the courts, when the temperature reached the cosmic level 8 degrees Centigrade, when the chair umpire Mohammed Layhani was ready to hide under the towel and say „Haaaanescu” enjoying the visible air coming out of his mouth. Finally, when the ones in the stands, who decided to stay, were ready for doing something really crazy. These were the circumstances of the pact between Monfils and the Poles. Monfils was winning, and the Poles were shouting „allez Gael” after almost every single ball. Both sides looked satisfied with the score (6/3 6/3), the Parisian was playing his best game of the tournament. What was especially sight taking, he managed to run and play back each dropshot and those were played by Hanescu with wondering eagerness. The re-breaks which the Romanian got were all the fault of his opponent's deconcentration. There was no single moment when the winner would have been doubtful. After the match, the security was forced to take Gael out of the court and secure him to the locker room, minding that everybody wanted to touch him.
Probably the most dramatic event took place on Saturday. Due to the rain problems, semifinal versus Potito Starace (defeated Moya and Acasuso) was moved to the court number one, when most of the people stayed on the central court to see how Guillermo Coria was losing to Florian Mayer. The court number one was bad covered and that's why it got wet. It was an extra point for Starace, who „lost his teeth” on different challengers in suspected places. Each dropshot was a sure winner. But only Starace used that weapon. Besides, the Italian had almost 100% of first service. The Frenchman was tired, and soon got bored as well. It looked like he didn't believe in possibility of success. His coaching team took the semifinal as an unexpectedly great achievement. Both, Thierry Champion and Remi Barbarin were sitting with faces in their hands without any optymism. However, the local crowd didn't forget about the new favourite player. With Monfils having one set lost (3/6), people organized theirselves into a big supporting team, which helped the youngster to take the lead in the second. However, it was not the last Starace's word. Especially that Monfils started suffering on cramps and tiredness. Starace re-breaked and broke once again. He had 5/4 and service. The probably most important ball of that match took place when it was 30/30 in that game. The fascinating rally had more than 20 strokes and till the end it was unpredictable to say who'd be a winner. It was really thrilling when Monfils was standing at the net on that slow court and Starace had convenient position to send a passing shot, but the Frenchman defended. What happened to the ball? It stucked on the net! And didn't move for two seconds! Just like couldn't to make up it's mind whether it's better to be a matchball or a breakpoint! Finally it landed on Starace's side. Two hundred people could breathe the air out of their lungs. Gael Monfils took that set 7/5 and 6/4 the next one. Asked on the press conference about the crowd which helped him much more that it normally happens on tournaments, he answered: „I really wasn't sure if it's not my imagination... So, wasn't it?”.
Before the final with Florian Mayer, everybody was asking such question, if the local favourite had enough physical shape. He didn't have much time to recover from Saturday, and his legs wasn't that quick, even though he overcame all the crisis with his fighting nature. The final was very similar, but on lower level. In both cases one of the factors of Monfils' triumphs was worse psychical rival's condition. Mayer, who let himself to get known as the one with impressive nerves, lost his final match twice. One time when he didn't win the setball in the first set after packing it into net, and the second time in the third set, when he let Monfils to find some extra health and power to fight till death in the last games. The player coached by Thierry Champion was this Sopot champion, who was receiving the greatest support between all the winners of the event.
Beginning of friendship between the player and the people not always looks like a fairy tale. „I must go playing now” - he said to the misguided group of fans, after the practise session on quallifying Saturday. From Sunday on, he became one of the most sociable players in Sopot, signing autographs for everyone, never turning down the ones asking for photos, having friendly chats with everyone who wanted – even if he felt unsure with his English. And, unnecessairly, he really did. At the award ceremony he started speaking French, „because in English it's so difficult”. It needed two coaches to shout to him: „Speak English”, what made Gael confused in the middle of the fuss, that's why he said in panic: „I wanted to thank my massagist”. More or less, it was the end of the speech. He was more talkative on press conferences, or to be more exact, he started to share his thoughts after the match with Starace. Before, it was difficult even to write something concret in the conference report. Monfils was talking about his family, favourite music, sports, French Federation tennis program and how he got there... finally, after he said he wanted to celebrate the success in the famous worldwide junkfood restaurant, he was informed, it has also selling points in Poland. He was surprised. The Frenchman was that kind he agreed on journalists' begging and danced the hip-hop dance on court after winning the tournament, and what's more, he gave a show of streetball in the city park. He had to do this, as he admitted he's too shy to sing any of his favourite songs (Monfils without an Ipod was a rare sight). On demands, he quoted Ludacris: „When I move you move – just like that”. This quote was recognized as an essence of the song „Stand up”, and it's really not about tennis, like the journalists thought and wrote in their articles.
Apart from streetball, Gael presented with Remi Barbarin (his fitness coach) the show of street rugby, as a practise session element before the match against Mónaco. He not only damaged few trees which had the bad luck of growing nearby, but also would have done the same to one journalist's head, if Remi Barbarin didn't catch the ball 5 centimetres before girl's head.
Nathaliia M. (Wrocław, 26th October 2005)