He leaps all over the court, plays incredible defense and propels those long arms and limbs into his shots.
Check out this image of Gael Monfils. Short of Kim Clijsters, no one else could get into that position and even she doesn’t get this low. I’ve often wondered if physical characteristics mirror personalities. For instance, I can barely touch my toes and haven’t been what you’d call flexible since I could wrap my toes around my body in the crib. I am also known to be stubborn. If you’re flexible and loosey goosey, does that mean you have a loosey goosey, more adaptable kind of personality? Conversely, are you more flexible if your mind is more flexible?
I’m not looking to type people here – it’s never a good idea and certainly isn’t in this age of multiculturalism and Monfils himself is a black man in France, the site of a few multicultural battles between police and young immigrants in recent years – but I’m always on the lookout for someone who’ll break tennis out of its mode of conformity and splash onto the bigger scene. Someone, anyone, who could bring more media attention to tennis through his personality and game.
Monfils is most definitely loosey goosey. He leaps all over the court, plays incredible defense and propels those long arms and limbs into his shots. He defeated last year’s wonder boy Marcos Baghdatis in the second round at the Australian Open in four sets, the last one a bagel. He’s also unpredictable. He then lost to Richard Gasquet in the third round. One of the sets was a bagel. You not only don’t know exactly what he’ll do on the court, you also don’t know from match to match whether he’ll play well or not.
He’s also very emotional and sometimes emotional players can take longer to develop. Federer used to be a head case when he was a junior – I’ve seen footage of him catapulting his racket across the court – but he figured out that he is one of those players who performs better when his emotions are under control. Monfils, on the other hand, plays best when he’s leaping around the court and yelling and shaking his fist. He plays best when his personality is in full view, not when it’s hidden behind a calm exterior. From a media perspective, that’s a plus.
I hope Monfils stays the way he is. People with big, emotional personalities will find many people who try to chop them down to size. I have to admit that I’ve had a lover or two with a big personality that I tried to shrink; mainly because my personality wasn’t as big and I didn’t want to be overshadowed. Also, opponents don’t appreciate someone showing them up.
By the way, flexibility doesn’t prevent injuries. Monfils has had multiple injuries. At the Madrid event last year he leaped in the air for joy after making a good shot and came down on his ankle, spraining it badly. I hope he ignores people like me who saw that and said he should tone down his on court celebrations. He shouldn’t calm anything down.
He might want to find a more permanent coaching situation though. That unpredictability extends to coaches. After announcing that he’d hired Pier Gauthier and was moving to Florida to train at Nick Bollettieri’s academy last October, he fired Gauthier three days before the Australian Open.
Among those young players like Monfils – Tomas Berdych (who may have been around a bit too long to be in this group, come on Tomas, do something, now!), Marcos Baghdatis, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Richard Gasquet – I’ve picked Murray to move to the front because he can play well on all surfaces and he has that magic man in his corner: Brad Gilbert. I can’t think of any other coach in the game who could improve his player’s results so much. That is except for Jimmy Connors and I wouldn’t have said that last summer. Besides, Connors is a legend. And Connors might not have his job if Roddick had kept Gilbert as his coach, which is what he should have done.
Monfils brings up the rear in terms of ranking – he’s number 59 while the other youngsters are bunched between 11 and 17 – but the when I get to my next tournament, probably Indian Wells, I’m heading immediately to his court for a bit of entertainment.