Gaël Monfils: ‘I’m getting a little bit old. People forget that I still have it’

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At any tournament in almost any part of the world, one of the certainties over the past 20 years is that whenever Gaël Monfils plays, fans are present. Tennis, after all, is entertainment, and there have been few greater entertainers than the 37-year-old. He is one of the purest athletes the sport has seen and displays immense skill, feel and showmanship. At his best, Monfils makes tennis look so easy.

But the Frenchman is adamant that it is not. Especially not in the final years of his career: “[People say] ‘Ah, Monfils is not disciplined’,” he says smiling, from the grounds of the Italian Open on the eve of the tournament. “Guys, don’t think this because I’m enjoying myself on the court. The work I do outside is big.”

Exactly a year ago, Monfils had been at one of the lowest points of his career. For nearly two years, until last summer, he simply could not stay fit. Whenever he did play, it seemed, he would leave the court with a new injury. By last May, Monfils had fallen to No 394 in the rankings. His goal of qualifying for the Paris Olympics in his home city was in tatters.

Those struggles forced Monfils into some serious soul-searching. He had deep conversations with his team, family and his wife – Elina Svitolina – about the future and he constantly credits the Ukrainian former world No 3 for pushing him to continue. As many contemporaries such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon have hung up their rackets, he had questions to answer about his own career mortality.

“Sometimes, I won’t lie, I was doubting a little bit,” he says. “I’m getting a little bit old. I hurt myself. You need to do all this [work]. It’s not easy to come back here. Last year, I was home and trying to call people: ‘Hey, you want to work with me?’ People forget that I still have it and you try to convince the people you still have it. ‘Yeah, but you’re 37 …’”

After working himself into shape in the following months, Monfils’s comeback has been impressive. He is now ranked No 38, the oldest player inside the top 50, and last year he became the fourth-oldest to win an ATP title since 1990. He will easily make the cut for the summer’s Olympic Games.

The immense ability and showmanship exhibited by Monfils has always generated conversation. He has enjoyed an incredible career, reaching a career high of No 6, spending most of his time inside the top 20 and winning 12 titles alongside reaching two grand-slam semi-finals, but he has simultaneously faced ample questions about his work ethic over the years. As he explains the challenge of returning from injury at 37, Monfils delves into the subject unprompted. The perceptions of him being lazy even affected his search for a new coach.

Gaël Monfils: ‘The only thing I want is for people to never forget that to succeed or whatever, you don’t have to listen to other people.’ Photograph: Sébastien Nogier/EPA-EFE

“I’m lucky because some people [believed in me],…

Read More: Gaël Monfils: ‘I’m getting a little bit old. People forget that I still have it’ 2024-05-19 07:00:00

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