Is Gael Monfils Tennis' Greatest Entertainer or Biggest Underachiever?

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2015

Gael Monfils celebrates a win over Roger Federer at the 2014 Davis Cup final.
Gael Monfils celebrates a win over Roger Federer at the 2014 Davis Cup final.Christophe Ena/Associated Press

Gael Monfils added another amazing shot to his growing list of ridiculous winners. By the time he retires, Monfils may have the most entertaining highlight reel ever and zero Grand Slams.

That's Lamonf, the showman with too few trophies to show for his enormous talents. Monfils is so engaging, dazzling and energetic. He may be the most entertaining tennis player of all time. He could also be the biggest underachiever. 

He seems able to flip on the greatness switch at will. Unfortunately, he sometimes slips easily into indifference. 

The flamboyant Frenchman displayed both during one point in his win over Alexandr Dolgopolov at the Monte-Carlo Masters. After hitting an underwhelming drop shot, Monfils turned his back to the net, as if he had given up on the point. Meanwhile, Dolgopolov dashed to the ball and hit what he thought was an easy cross-court winner. Monfils sprinted to the ball to hit a winner of his own.

The crowd roared. Monfils grinned. 

Every time Monfils pulls off the spectacular, you're left wondering, why hasn't this guy won a Slam? Acrobatic and agile, Monfils plays defense like it's offense. Just when he opponent thinks they've hit a winner, Monfils slides in to win the point. 

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He next faces Roger Federer, the anti-Monfils. Federer, also a pleasure to watch, is more pragmatic and focused. Federer produces flair with precision and execution. 

Make no mistake, Monfils works hard. He keeps fit and game-plans his matches. Arnaud Clement, captain of the French Davis Cup team, spoke with reporters after Monfils defeated Federer in France's lone win in the 2014 final.

"When you play against a player like Stan (Wawrinka) or Roger with that high quality, you know these players have all the shots, so you have to be careful about what they can do, the changes they can make in their game. Gael was paying a lot of attention to that. He's able to see a lot of things by himself."

Once ranked as high as No. 7 (2011), Monfils is back in the Top 20 after plummeting outside the Top 100 in 2013 after a serious knee surgery. 

He puts what seems like unnecessary stress on his joints and muscles in an effort to pull off trick shots. He was trying to make one of his miraculous shots against Tomas Berdych at the Miami Open when he injured his thigh. He was forced to retire. 

But that's Lamonf, risking injury to put on a show. 

Sometimes the show gets in the way of his tennis performance. However, is it fair to call Monfils an underachiever?

To label him as an underachiever his game, rather than style, must be evaluated. Does he have better shot variety than Federer? No way. He moves as well as Novak Djokovic, but does Monfils posses the same consistency and accuracy? Can he serve as well as Andy Murray? Can he dig as deep as Rafael Nadal and stay strong in five sets?

Those are the men who have won the majority of the Slams in the past five years. Is Monfils' game truly Slam-worthy? Certainly had he not tanked against Federer in the 2014 U.S. Open, he would have had a shot at Marin Cilic in the semifinals and Kei Nishikori in the finals. Chances like that are rare. 

No doubt his style excites fans. It might also be masking flaws in his game? What if he's maxed out his capabilities?

Fans and tennis writers probably spend more time wondering about this stuff than Monfils does. 

LaMonf loves to entertain. In his bio on the ATP Tour website, he says if he were not a tennis player, he would be playing basketball. He brings NBA-like swagger to tennis. He even smashes the ball with slam-dunk authority. His favorite player is New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, an exciting, highlight-making superstar with no titles.

Monfils has five ATP titles, but has never reached a Slam semifinal. 

Unlike Anthony, Monfils doesn't seem too stressed about winning championships. Monfils looks happy. 

Why not? He's making millions playing a sport he loves. Why must he agonize over what others believe he should achieve? Maybe the quest for trophies is secondary to his pursuit of happiness. 

A couple of days before his U.S. Open match with Federer, Monfils explained to reporters his lackadaisical approach to tennis.  

I don't know how to explain it. Like straightaway it's -- for me tennis is a sport, you know. It's not a job, you know, it's a sport. Sometime if I'm fed up with that, you know, just leave it. For me, I don't know if it's bad to say it and for sure I will use like bad words in English, but it's like, you know, don't give a (expletive). You know, it's like okay, next one. It sounds bad in English, but what I mean is I care about the match. I don't care about, you know, other things. 

Monfils is 28. Time to get serious, or not. Monfils has his own hierarchy of needs. After defeating Federer in the Davis Cup final, Monfils ranked the victory among his three most memorable matches.

When a reporter asked what were the other two, Monfils included a loss to Lleyton Hewitt. "I had lost 6‑3, 7‑6.  But for me it's the best match of my career because of the memory of it, because of the atmosphere."

A loss, the best match of his career, speaks volumes about Monfils passion for the art of tennis, win or lose. 

The other match, among his three most memorable? The first time he defeated his father. As he told reporters"It's not purely tennis. It's the context, the overall situation."  

Monfils may never win a Slam. He may, however, go down as one of the most entertaining players in tennis history. Who knows? That might even be his goal. If so, he's an overachiever. 

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