Monfils Unplugged

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Gael Monfils posted his fourth straight-sets win of the U.S. Open against Grigor Dimitrov. (Photo by Anita Aguilar)

“I think I hit better the ball day after day. . .I keep like simple thing in my head, so obviously is working. Then it's luck. To be honest, look at set point. I hit one of the worst drop shots I ever hit and he hit a frame. It's pure luck, you know, to haven't drop a set. So you need to have it sometime, and I hope I will have more.”Gael Monfils, after his fourth straight-sets win of the U.S. Open, this time 7-5, 7-6 (6), 7-5 over No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov.

NEW YORK—One of the main themes at this U.S. Open is that Monfils, the No. 20 seed and, to many, one of the game’s major underachievers, is getting down to the business of winning after years spent establishing his credentials as a crowd-pleasing showboat.

In other words, he’s coming to grips with the hard part.

Of course, this is still Monfils, and a leopard never entirely changes its spots. So there were moments in this match when it looked like “La Monf” might run off the rails. Once, he brazenly advanced to the service line as Dimitrov prepared to serve, so disgusted with his game that he was inviting his opponent to just throw in any ball—he was only going to wave at it in passing and intentionally lose the game so he could move on to the next one.

In the second set, Monfils seemed to berate the entire Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd with a voluble stream of invective that turned out to be aimed at only himself. Monfils drank Coca-Cola on the changeovers, flaunting the conventional wisdom (and pleasing a potential sponsor?); he even tanked points.

But he also—and this is the important bit—served lethally, cracked his forehand, and changed the pace of the rallies time and again to goad Dimitrov into over-hitting.

Dimitrov made 19 unforced errors with his usually reliable forehand, and never was able to settle into a groove. The closest Dimitrov came to turning the tide was in the second-set tiebreaker, when he had two set points against Monfils’ serve. He drilled a forehand into the net off a sliced backhand to waste the first one, then he made a great run to reach a woeful drop shot (referenced in the pull quote)—only to take his eye off the ball and send a wild shot caroming off the opposite net post. After that, Monfils kept tight control and went on to win in two hours and 24 minutes.

The only place where Monfils performed better than on the court today was in the interview room. When a reporter commented on his flexibility and asked him if he practices yoga, Monfils replied, “No, just every day thanks for my mom and my dad. Genetics, you know.”

Then someone wondered just what does go through Monfils’ mind when he loses his focus: “I don't know how to explain it. For me tennis is a sport, you know? It's not a job, it's a sport. Sometime if I'm fed up I just leave it. For me, it's like. . . ‘I don't give a sh**.” It sounds bad in English, but I care about the match. I don't care about, you know, other things (presumably, he means rankings and prize money and such).

“It's like I want just to be happy, you know. If I'm not happy, fine. Have it, you know.”

Finally, there was the Coke theme. A nonplussed reporter allowed that he had never witnessed a player drinking a carbonated, sugar-laden soft drink during a match. Monfils replied: “Well, sometimes I just feel like I want a Coke, you know? And I drink a Coke.”

Asked if the gesture he made with the Coke was a toast to the supportive crowd, Monfils smiled: “No. My agent. Because every time it makes him smile.”

Today, that agent, and Monfils fans all over the world, had a lot to smile about.

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