Court Report: Monfils Mania
By James Martin
Gael Monfils is the game's next superstar. How do I know this? I watched his match today on the Grandstand against Michael Russell with four young kids, who took part in the greatest of Open traditions Ė they snuck down into the press seats to get a better view. Next to me was Tim, 11, and next to him was his friend (his name escapes me), 12. The other two couldn't have been more than 14.
All were dressed alike: baseball caps (Duke representing), tennis shirts, tennis shorts, and tennis shoes (Babolat being the preferred brand of
footwear). I asked Tim what he liked about Monfils. "His energy and passion," he said.
I agree. Monfils is an electric if erratic player, all arms and legs. Calling his movement awkward would be kind. And watching him slide on the hard courts, it's clear that he's an ankle injury waiting to happen.
But he is passionate.
During his match against the American Russell, who has no weapons to speak of, Monfils hit some huge forehands down the line before pumping himself (and the crowd) up. Good stuff. But even the way he does the double fist-pump is strange. It looks as if Monfils is trying to escape a swarm of killer bees, pumping and twirling all at once.
Late in the fourth set, with Monfils up two sets to one, Tim said, "Feels like five." The momentum and emotion swings were suggesting it would go the distance. Russell, the consummate counter-puncher, was frustrating Monfils. And for all his talent, Monfils seemed to be wilting. After virtually every point, he bent down to his knees, trying to get a breather. Then again, he looks that way after the first point, let alone one late in a fourth set breaker.
Monfils' mental game needs to be sharpened too. He can play some of the loosest points you'll ever see, missing the ball Ė badly.
But after Monfils went up 3-0 in the breaker, Tim and his cronies were emboldened. Tim predicted it was over, the result a fait accompli. He added (in a nice way) that I better be ready to get out of his way so he could motor down to the court for Monfils' autograph.
Monfils won, of course, and I politely allowed the gang to pass. They were joined by dozens of other kids looking for some ink from the gangly Frenchman.
Superstar in the making? Could be.