This year’s ATP World Tour Finals, I saw so many interesting matches with lots of unexpected results. What was more interesting was the fact that there was a black tennis player who qualified for this year’s tournament for the first time: Frenchman Gael Monfils. This was an important day for him and the whole black community. He made history being the only black player after Arthur Ashe and James Blake to have qualified for this tournament. Monfils is the only black male in the current era who is reaching such heights in tennis single events.
Monfils’s brilliance traces back to his junior days — in February 2004 he was the No.1 Junior. In the same year he won the Boy’s Singles titles at the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. He was crowned International Tennis Federation Youth World Champion.
Two years later, in a surprising twist of events, Monfils received a singles wildcard into the main draw of a tennis paddle tournament in Las Vegas. Monfils competed and surprised everyone when he ousted world No. 1 paddle tennis player Scott Freedman and eventually went on to win the whole tournament. This guy has had his highs and lows, but he has always been a bundle of energy on court. He’s obviously a star in the black community, but his competitiveness and drive make him a stand-out on all counts.
In fact, as soon as tennis fans think of him, the only thing that comes to mind is the fun and entertaining way he plays. He often relies on unconventional strokes and strategies that seem to represent his unique personality, too: when asked who is the most fun guy on the tour, most of his fellow players say it’s Gael Monfils. For me, it is always refreshing to watch him play and I was sure he was going to bring that energy to the O2 Arena this year. But unfortunately he had to withdraw from the tournament after two matches owing to rib muscle injury.
The first match he played was against Canadian Milos Raonic and the latter won it comparatively easily with the score reading 6-3, 6-4. Monfils won just 48 percent of all second serve points. He played with a fair share of unforced errors contributing to the score as well. Raonic failed to surrender a single break of serve, adding to the fact the did not give any more than two points in any of his serving games.
The second match he played was against Austrian Dominic Thiem. It was comparatively
closer than his previous match, though he lost again. The match went to three sets and it was a treat to watch Monfils on the court. He was destructive in the second set, serving extremely well and needed only 25 minutes to wrap up the set. But in the third set Monfils fell apart completely, serving many double faults. He eventually lost the set and the match 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. Monfils did really well in this match but it was clear he was struggling with muscle injury and knee issues. It was before his match against Novak Djokovic that he withdrew from the tournament and he was replaced by David Goffin.
Let us all hope that Monfils recovers quickly so that we can watch him bring his unique style and infectious energy back to the court — and watch as he continues making strides for the black community.
— Sri Vishwanathan