Will Gael Monfils Ever Fulfill His Enormous Potential?

Michael LanichCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2010

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 08:  Gael Monfils of France looks on against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during his men's singles quarterfinal match on day ten of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

In the pantheon of the greatest pure athletes to ever grace a tennis court, most would probably mention Rafael Nadal at the top of the list, but I believe Gael Monfils beats Nadal by a hair or two.

The level of Monfils' athleticism is so high that watching one of his matches almost guarantees a few hours of high-level entertainment, but that doesn't always mean the result is a win.

When Monfils was a junior player, he was a monster on the court.  In 2004 as a teen, he won three junior slam titles (Australian, French, Wimbledon) and seemed poised to make the leap to being one of the next great players who could potentially dominate the tour.

Sadly, that has never happened.

Part of Monfils' problem undoubtedly is due to his injury woes over the years.  More than probably any other player, Monfils has been afflicted with nearly every minor injury that most tennis players might deal with over the course of a long career.

Some of this might be bad luck, but it's my theory that it is bad body management, including over-training on the court or weight room, which are the real culprits.

Monfils' biggest problems are a trio that together are almost more of a problem than his injuries.

The first is his over-reliance on his athleticism.  Monfils does now what Nadal used to do, which is going after absolutely every single point, rather than picking his spots.

The second and worst of Monfils' problems is his knack for showmanship.  

There are often times when his desire to produce breathtaking shots overrides his common sense. This was never in greater evidence than his match against Novak Djokovic in their US Open quarterfinal match.

Early in the first set with Monfils up a break and serving at 2-1, 40-0, a rally was ensuing between both players.  After a penetrating shot by Djokovic, Monfils sent it back but Djokovic, who had come to net, hit a short ball with little pace directly back.

Now any player would have wound up a forehand and ripped it past Djokovic.  It was an easy shot, but instead of doing the normal and boring shot, Monfils decided to spice it up by leaping into the air and attempting to hit the shot between his legs.  Suffice it to say, it was a disaster.

Now, I understand that we again bore witness this year to a Federer between the legs shot, and Monfils was up a break and well ahead in the set, but it's points, and easy points like that which separate the winners from the losers. 

Roger Federer and Nadal would never have attempted something like that unless they had to like Federer's shot early in the tournament. It's why they are slam winners and Monfils is still a work in progress.

Lastly, Monfils will often space out on the court for long stretches of time.  He either seems apathetic, or just lacks confidence to work within his game. Regardless, it's something he will have to push through if he's going to get to the next level.

Every two to three years there are whispers about the next great prospect coming through the ranks. It's inevitable that not all of these so-called soon-to-be-greats will all amount to what those around them say they can and will become, but Monfils has always been one of those players who have as much talent and ability to win as he does the penchant for thrilling theatre on the court.

At 24, Monfils doesn't have long before the chances to fulfill his amazing talent evaporate. He has all of the tools necessary to win—a great forehand, solid backhand, great speed, and wonderful defense.  If he could just find a way to use all of that and develop the killer instinct necessary to truly excel, we may yet see the fruition of all the hard work those around him have sacrificed on his behalf.

Look, I understand that maybe the expectations are simply too high for some of these players to handle, but these goals are often echoed by the players themselves, including Monfils.

The time however is now to make a move.  Either fade away or up the ante.  When your greatest career matches are a win over Rafael Nadal in a small lead-up tournament to the Australian Open and a five-set thriller at Roland Garros to Roger Federer, then you might want to start ticking off your goals a little quicker because while those are nice memories, they are not good enough.  

Maybe Richard Gasquet can tell Monfils what he's doing wrong.

Maybe one day he will put in that extra hard work too and become a champion.  Do I think it will happen now?  No, but then again anything can happen.

So what do you think?  Monfils just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago.  Are his chances dwindling?  Will he ever put it all together and do something special?

On a side note, I was going to write an article about Rafael Nadal but I decided to put that on the back burner for a few days because of the large amount that have been written over the last week or so.  I will get that out early next week.

I'll keep on writing and you keep on reading.  Cheers!