Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Style points: Give Them All to Lamonf

Gael Monfils possesses the type of genius that you can't teach. But will he ever learn how to win ugly? If he does, watch out world.

I want to start this piece by enumerating all the flowery adjectives that might aptly describe the beauty of Gael Monfils on a tennis court. Electric, captivating, fascinating. I am doing so, not because I am on assignment. Charged, frenetic, impassioned. Nobody is paying me to do this. Inconceivable, illimitable, combustible. I am doing so because I have been moved to do so -- dexterous, exquisite, gorgeous -- and because the stride and the spirit of "Lamonf" has inspired me to do so.

If you're like me -- a person who eschews normal levels of social activity in order to take in and digest as much professional tennis as possible -- you know what I am talking about. Sure, some of you might be rolling your eyes as you read this. Some of you might be saying "oh no, not another ode to Monfils, and especially not after the flamboyant Frenchman was denied his first Masters title by a far superior and more mature player named Soderling."

But hang on a minute. Those of you who've read my blog before know that I've given Soderling his due on many occasions, and I'll more than likely do it on many more, but as far as I'm concerned, the Paris Masters event was more about Monfils that anything else.

That's just the way it is when Gael gets on a roll like he did in Bercy last week. His efforts are colored with this almost inexplicable joie de vivre, this magnetic lust for the sport. It's a beautiful thing, and damned if it doesn't remind me of the fact that tennis is supposed to be fun.

I know it's far-fetched, but there are those few rare and precious individuals who manage to not get caught up in the maddening elements of the game of tennis and instead seem to focus on the joy of just being there. Monfils is one of them, and in my opinion, he is the symbol of better living through tennis.

Yeah, I know purists will not want to hear any of this. They'll take comfort in pointing to the fact that for all of Monfils' highlight reel material he's yet to win a major or even a Masters crown. They'll frown upon Monfils for his exuberance -- "how dare he enjoy his profession that much!" -- and they'll not give him the credit that is so clearly due until he proves to them that he can throw a big rope around that screaming euphoric mess of emotions that he possesses, and force the whole clutter to submit.

But that would be a travesty because there is simply nobody better at entertaining crowds and lifting the spirit of a tennis competition to another level than the 24-year-old Paris native. I'm sorry, but not even the two greatest players in the game -- Rafa and Rog -- can do what Monfils does out there. Nobody can. The guy is a veritable phenom, a jumping, lunging, chest-beating miracle of physics.

And that is why I'm sitting here trying to find ways to salute Monfils, loss in the final notwithstanding, inability to break through and win a Masters title notwithstanding.

It's strange, I know. I've always been the first person to say things like "I don't care how pretty you play, it's how effective you play," or "style points don't do crap when you're down a break in the third set." But Monfils will always get a pass from me. And he should get one from you as well. Sure, it's okay to want more for him. But it is silly to get all hung up on results when we are talking about tennis artistry in its purest form.

And besides, it's not our job to worry about Gael's title count -- or lack thereof. His new coach Roger Rasheed is doing everything he can to get Gael to realize the type of gold that he has in his vaults. There is no better athlete in the game today, and if, with the help of Lleyton Hewitt's former coach, Monfils can get his heart and his head on the same page, big-time success is sure to come.

At times last week, while catching glimpses of Rasheed in his box, I couldn't help thinking that the tides were slowly changing for Monfils. Under the Aussie's tutelage Monfils has seemed a little stronger mentally, and a little stronger physically as well. And while Rasheed is militaristic, he's also unabashedly positive, and has professed that he is not interested in making Monfils fit his round pegs into any square holes. He wants Monfils to be himself, because he's smart enough to know that quashing his instinct would more than likely take the life out of Monfils.

Monfils needs to breathe, and Rasheed knows this. Now, if only Rasheed can get Monfils to understand that there is a time and a place for leaving skid marks on the court (ideally not at 5-0 in the first set, maybe at 4-4 and deuce in the second?) and that there is a type of underlying calm that has to be in place to keep those unbridled emotions from ruining an otherwise perfect match, Monfils may be able to keep on wowing the masses who have fallen in love with his athletic prowess while satisfying his staunchest critics too.

But the point of this piece is to appreciate Monfils for what he currently is -- an absolute physical phenom, an athletic superstar with mad hops and soft hands and world-class speed, and the game's finest showman -- rather than lament what he has yet to become.

Because whether Monfils fulfills his promise or not, he'll always be a pleasure to watch on so many levels. So few of today's stars have that certain je ne sais quoi that makes a regular tennis match turn into an athletic spectacle that transcends the sport. Monfils has it, and whether he's winning, losing, soaring, or stumbling, his contributions to the sport should be held in the highest regard.


  1. So maybe he should hook up with Brad "Win Ugly" Gilbert? Hmm. Roger Rasheed seems to be doing quite nicely with him, though.

  2. No, I have a feeling that Roger is the right guy for the job here. He really has a lot of positive energy and seems to have a good feel for giving Gael what he needs without holding him back.

    I would love to see Brad hook up with somebody in the near future though -- I think he needs another run.

  3. I love the flair and athleticism of Monfils also. After hanging on to beat Federer, I was hoping that he could do the same with Soderling. I do wonder about the small injuries with which he always seems to play. Maybe from throwing himself around the court, or on the court. He seems to be often crashing to the ground. This is the part he needs to watch before he seriously injures his shoulders or knees. I would miss his presence.

  4. Back at ya, Chris!


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