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Beyond the Baseline

Enthralling, infuriating case of Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils

Gael Monfils exited in the secound round after making the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open last year. (Erick W. Rasco/SI)

The Gael Monfils Show is like Jersey Shore. I don't want to watch it, I tune in anyway, I find myself cringe-laughing and after it's all over I hate myself a little more and vow to never tune in again. Lather, rinse, repeat, and I've watched more Gael Monfils matches than I care to admit.

But really, the analogy fits. Do you want to be a productive member of society or do you just want to make people laugh, even if they're laughing at you? In Monfils' case, he seems perfectly content being the entertainer, eschewing the win for the highlight reel. How else can we make sense of his propensity to tap out of matches, seemingly unbothered by dropping a grueling five-set match that lasted more than four and a half hours at a Slam?

"It's not bad, you know," he said after Thursday's marathon loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round of the U.S. Open. "I think I'm disappointed because I lost the match. But I think I give my best. Today I have a big fighter against me. I lost the match on a few points. But I take only the good side of this loss. So I'm disappointed because for sure I want to go deep on the tournament, but I think I made a great game. I think it's tennis."

Monfils is right. He did come up against a big fighter. Ferrero played intelligently and made it clear that he wasn't going to gift this match, that Monfils would have to win it. But isn't that the never-ending problem with the Frenchman? He rarely seems capable of putting himself out there, fighting tooth and nail to attempt to win. Psychologically, it's always more disappointing (read: gut-wrenching) to try your absolute hardest and still fall short. Best to either have excuses to point to for why you didn't win, or simply not put in that extra effort to show everyone you care. It's self-preservation at its finest.

Gael Monfils is a happy guy. He seems to have fun playing tennis. He truly gets a kick out of being able to chase down a ball and hit the impossible shot. He revels in the oohs and ahhs, the adoration of the crowd, those singular YouTube moments that still have people talking, regardless of his ranking or record. It's enough to make me feel like a Grinch for raining on his parade.

Perhaps a winning Monfils is a boring Monfils. Perhaps if he reined it in he'd simply be one of those players who, you know, wins things. But at least he'd be relevant. Right now he's just an entertaining sideshow, and I think we can all agree that he's better than that. He's got all the talent, all the tools, all the ability.

He's just missing a head.

***

But since he did hit some ridiculous shots during his short stay in New York ...

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