By Sandra Harwitt
DOHA, Qatar — Gael Monfils is one of those players that fans have always enjoyed watching. Lanky and athletic, his body parts seem to go in every direction at once as if his limbs were made from pliable rubber bands. There’s no denying that the charismatic Frenchman’s game is entertaining, and he often inspires the crowd to cheer points that seem near impossible to execute.
Last year, however, fans had to do without the presence of Monfils for more than a quarter of the season as he struggled to deal with a right knee injury. The result of being sidelined: Monfils went from experiencing a career high ranking of No. 7 in July 2011 to finishing 2012 at No. 78, marking the first time since 2007 that he failed to finish a season ranked comfortably inside the top 20.
Rumors abounded during 2012 that Monfils was having difficulty dealing with his forced exile from the tour to recuperate his knee. The word was that Monfils became particularly down when he had to withdraw from the U.S. Open — the only Grand Slam he played in 2012 was the Australian Open where he reached the third round. He reportedly was further crushed after he returned to the court in mid-September only to discover his knee wasn’t sufficiently healed and he’d have to withdraw from the Asian swing events at Tokyo and Shanghai in October.
“Quite a long struggle last year,” said Monfils, here in Doha. “And then it took me [a] couple of more months after I try to come back. Now it’s good.”
To his credit, Monfils is insisting upon being a guy who projects the glass is always half full. With that goal in mind he says his time off provided some positives.
“Yeah, it was a bit frustrating because you’re not doing what you love,” Monfils said. “But actually I was fine. I was with my family, stay a lot with my family, with my friend, and, you know, just discover like plenty of new stuff. You know, actually you live your life. You know, you’re a tennis player, but we have a life and I’m young. So I traveled a bit, be with my friend, be a good kid to my parents. So it was different.”
Different could be translated into a reality check of what day-to-day living is like for the large majority of people.
“Well, it’s not real life (the tennis tour) because the real life is you’re a human being,” Monfils said. “The real life is when my mom ask me to take out the trash. This is the real life. Here it’s real life, too, but it’s a job. So it’s just like you’re not going to play tennis, but, you know, I’m doing most of normal stuff, basic stuff, without playing tennis. It’s the same. Actually, it’s the same. The only exception is I not a tennis player.”
Whether the way of life of a professional tennis player is real life or not is an issue that could be debated for days. But, for now, for Monfils, it is the real life he is back to pursuing now that his right knee is feeling healthy.
In layman terms, Monfils knee cap was split and the area can get swollen. In medical jargon, it’s called Osgood Schlatter Syndrome and develops when adolescents have a growth spurt. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sanjay Hegde of Bangalore, India, confirmed that the disease is a persistent condition that can be very painful.
On Wednesday, Monfils reached the Qatar ExxonMobil Open quarterfinals compliments of a tough 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 upset of third seed Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany.
“It’s always good to have a great victory like this in your belt,” said Monfils, who reached the final here last year before falling to fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. “Then, yeah, physically I’m happy because I serving like very fast and no pain, nothing very special, so I was pleased with that. And, yeah, definitely the end of the match, I was very aggressive, and I made the shots, so I was happy with that.”
Monfils will be back in action on Thursday when he faces German qualifier Daniel Brands for a spot in the semifinals. And if he is to be believed, he’s confident he’ll have no worries about his knees, at least for now.
“When you choose to be back on the court, it’s because you’re 100 percent,” Monfils said earlier in the week. “If not, there is no point to come back. For me, if I’m here it’s because I feel 100 percent and I’m ready to give my best and ready to challenge myself to try to be back at my top level.”