Gael Monfils: La Monf, The Man

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Gael Monfils: La Monf, The Man
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In the midst of celebrating a glorious point, which included a mid-air two-handed smash against Marin Cilic during the quarterfinals of the Bercy event last week, a strange but confiding moment occurred for Gael Monfils: he became a man.

It wasn't so much his jaw-dropping attempt against his lanky opponent that caused the Frenchman's revelation—if anything, we've seen one too many (or too few) miracle acrobatic moves by the French player during his career.

Let's not forget the 100 mph forehand winners against Rafael Nadal at this year's US Open, or the perennial out-of-court, out-of-reach backhand passes the Paris native has created on his yearly romp through a few rounds at Roland Garros.

There was certainly something different about that point, which took place at 6-3, 2-4, Cilic serving. Monfils, who had never made the finals of a Masters 1000 event, missed a golden opportunity the week before in Valencia to remain in contention for the Tour finale in London.

The Frenchman's productive yet inconsistent year, which had included a title in Metz and a runner-up finish in Acapulco, was respectable, but was it enough?

Here was perhaps the best athlete on Tour, a player who had won three of the four Grand Slam events as a junior and at one time or another equaled or surpassed the Olympic curriculum for athletic measure.

Thus, it was easy to determine that even though Monfils held many exquisite attributes, comprising of a few trick shots and a fist pump here and there, the youngster's style of play would ultimately lead to limited results.

Putting on a good show simply held greater value than winning Major titles.

So what suddenly changed in the mindset of Monfils while slapping back a Cilic overhead?

Was his career worthy of a second look?

One could say that Monfils' intervention took place as a result of his failure to qualify for London—pain and reflection usually take place when the moment of truth has been revealed.

More than Monfils' missed opportunity to qualify for London, I believe the Frenchman finally (as it so fittingly happened on one of his miraculous circus shots) posed this specific statement to himself: Hey, if I do apply myself on a week-to-week basis, there is no reason why I won't be able to remain in the elite ranks of the game.

Now, I'm not saying that Monfils is a certifiable Grand Slam contender. His shot selection and ability to play under pressure remain in question. However, if the Paris Masters taught us anything, it was that the age-old theory of "heart" and "fighting to the end" will remain the cornerstone of any great competitor.

Even though Nadal was ushered out the event in convincing fashion by eventual champion Novak Djokovic, the Spaniard's resilience throughout the early stages of the tournament allowed for his deep progression. Against Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo, Nadal's serve and forehand (his usual bread and butter) were "off," to say the least.

However, what remained a constant for Nadal was his ability to give 100 percent under any circumstance.

This tactic, or should I say mental asset, has served the Spaniard exceedingly well in his claim of both the No. 1 ranking and his six Major championships.

With the 2010 season a mere six weeks from commencement, it will be rather interesting to observe Monfils' trajectory up (or down) the mental ladder.

Remember folks, wanting to compete day in and day out is much easier than just reciting it to oneself. Monfils displayed tremendous grit throughout his last event of Tour, and if he is to creep up and become a consistent top-10 player, nothing short of a better game plan and continued belief must be present.

Monfils does deserves credit for being consistent in one facet of the game throughout his six-year career: he's managed to play tennis under his own terms.

I asked Monfils earlier this year in Montreal after defeating Marat Safin in a first encounter if he ever thought of holding back a touch when accelerating towards a dynamic all-or-nothing passing shot.

The charismatic 23-year-old, who was slouched over at the time, glanced down at his tennis shoes, thought about his answer for a second, and confidently replied, "If I don't play this way, I cannot play. This is my game. If I don't dive for the ball, I can't return it."

Who said anything about not diving for a ball?

At any rate, the consensus is out that Monfils is a real deal tennis player who will continue to battle the mental grind of what he hopes will turn into consistent results.

You can bet that during his current offseason, Monfils will attempt to inject himself with the following words of inspiration: How can I take my game to the next level?

This vital but precocious statement has never been apart of the Monfils repertoire.

He's always had the talent; now all that remains for the current world No. 13 to discover is the conundrum of fusing his athletic ability with his seldom-used metal game.

Will the task be easy? Not a chance.

Will it even happen?

Just like his miraculous portfolio of death-defying shots, La Monf has repeatedly proved that the unthinkable can be turned into a vivid reality.

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