Pick up where it left off. This is the whole challenge for Gaël Monfils. Like Rafael Nadal, the Parisian will finally resume his season, more than six months after playing his last match. It was in Dubai at the end of February. More precisely on February 28th. Day of an electric semi-final against Novak Djokovic whom he had finally failed to beat, even obtaining three match points, before losing in three sets (2-6, 7-6, 6-1) for the 17th time in 17 matches.
But this bitter conclusion excepted, the Parisian had the best start to the season of his career with two tournaments won (Montpellier, Rotterdam) and a 3rd place in the Race (ranking since January 1). So much so that the person concerned spoke of the top 5 as a goal assumed this season. Yes but here it is, the coronavirus has been there, the Race has been deleted – the 8 best at ATP will qualify for the Masters held in London – and Monfils’ plans have been upset.
“I have worked well the last few weeks so I feel confident”
Faced with concern about the health situation and an emergency patched up schedule, the 9th player in the world had to make choices and therefore decided not to go to Flushing Meadows. “It’s a calendar that we built with my team. We found it hard to move on. Those who played well at the US Open don’t come here. Doing hard-earth-hard is complicated. I rather wanted to link earth-hard“, he explained to The team.
Undeniably, this break in the season did not work to his advantage. But impatient to do battle, he does not make a drama of it. “It’s been almost 7 months since I have done a tournament, since I haven’t had this adrenaline, this feeling of training for a goal. It will be a different tournament for sure. But I’m pretty excited to play it. I had a great start to the year. I felt really good, strong. We must do everything to find these sensations and this positive momentum“, he still confided.
To do this, he worked intensely on clay to prepare as well as possible for this recovery, obviously in a duet with his companion Elina Svitolina, world number 6. He has also shared training sessions with Stan Wawrinka and more recently, on Roman clay, with King of Ocher Rafael Nadal. What to give back fishing and going. “I have worked well the last few weeks so I feel confident. There’s no reason I can’t shine again. “
Oddly enough, Rome has (almost) never succeeded
Perhaps no tennis reason. But psychologically, adapting to the Roman camera will be a real challenge. Already impressed by the empty Foro Italico stadium in training, how will Monfils react in competition? He himself does not know. “I will get back to you in a few days“, he blurted out, circumspect. Known for his sense of spectacle and his ability to put the public in his pocket, will the French be at a disadvantage in Rome? Nothing is less certain. Because public or no, he has never done a miracle in the Italian capital, with the exception of a semi-final lost to Rafael Nadal here… 14 years ago.
Often absent in Rome – he has only 7 participations in the tournament – he remains on three eliminations from the first round. A lack of success, on a surface where it flourishes however, that itself cannot be explained. “I don’t know why I haven’t had great results here in the past. It’s very strange. I haven’t played great tennis, but I hope to change that this year“, he slipped, smirk. This time, Monfils will start in the second round against an opponent within his reach, the German Dominik Koepfer, 97th player in the world.
A reunion against Djoko in quarterback?
If he will obviously have to be wary of it – Koepfer beat Gilles Simon in qualifying and surprised an Alex de Minaur not really at ease in the first round – the French number 1 should be able to gauge himself and take some fundamental benchmarks. “I think my first two matches will be key to getting me started again“He said. One thing is certain, the Parisian is approaching this extraordinary end of the season mentally fresh.”This confinement fell badly because I was playing very well. But in my personal life it was a new experience to be at home for so long. I was able to share more things, paradoxically, with people, to try to be more careful around me in these difficult times. “
Before returning to the Porte d’Auteuil he loves so much and his (few) spectators, he will therefore try to reach a level of confidence, if not comparable to that of February, at least interesting. If he passes this first obstacle then the round of 16 against the ghost Kei Nishikori or the surprising young Italian Lorenzo Musetti (winner of Wawrinka), a possible reunion, which would no doubt be tasty, could await him against Djokovic.
But be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Because the priority for “La Monf ‘” is elsewhere: to find the pleasure and the rhythm of the competition. Although occupied in the virtual world by his Twitch channel during confinement, it’s finally time to return to reality and tennis. What is more on ocher, his favorite playground.