By Matt Ankerson and Alan Wright
Photos by Bowman Gray IV
“Tennis was never work for me, tennis was fun. And the tougher the battle and the longer the match, the more fun I had.”
Alan and I took our seats on Center Court last night to watch the night session’s featured match between Frenchman Gael Monfils and Guido Pella of Argentine. Monfils took the first set in relatively easy fashion winning 6-2 in 27 minutes. Alan turned to me and made the declaration that Monfils is now his favorite player on tour.
While I was pondering the reasoning behind Alan’s statement, I came to the realization that I am the same age as Jimmy Connors was when he made an improbable run to the semi-finals of the 1991 US Open. Connors, 39 years of age at the time, was considered a fossil with any age over 30 considered over-the-hill for tennis professionals. He single-handedly captured the attention of not just fans of tennis but an entire nation for the next two weeks of the tournament. The story had everything – some has-been kicking ass against players almost half his age, comeback matches (Connors came back from two sets down in his first round match against Patrick McEnroe), and incredible, unforgettable points during the most pressure packed parts of his matches, all of this occurred with New York City as the backdrop. The excitement I felt during the 1991 US Open sold me on this sport forever. It seemed Jimmy Connors was having the time of his life. He wanted us all to have as much fun as he was experiencing, we were all invited to his party.
It’s always a special moment as a spectator, when you see any athlete go out and perform at a high level. It becomes even more memorable when that athlete appears to be enjoying his moment.
Maybe this is what Alan saw last night in Monfils.
Professional sports are serious business in our world today. So much so, athletes feel the weight of pressure on all aspects occurring on and off the playing fields. Are we even the least bit surprised when a sport they dedicated their lives to also becomes a burden?
Watching Gael Monfils last night was one of those rare times you see an athlete having a good time. Like Connors 23 years earlier, Monfils had the Winston Salem crowd in the palm of his hand. He plays with such fluidity when hitting perfectly executed groundstrokes. He’s one of the quickest guys on the tour, moving from the baseline to within a few feet from the net in seconds to return a drop shot from his opponent – it was a sight to see. Monfils cracked a few first serves for aces that reached in the high 120’s on the radar game as well, showing off his blend of both power and speed.
The former world top ten is hands down the most exciting player left in this year’s singles draw at the Winston-Salem Open.
“I prefer to play at night,” Monfils said. “I’m a night person.” Night matches are made for guys like Monfils. There is an added element of excitement when the sun goes down and the stadium lights shine brightly down on the two players prepared to battle.
Monfils seems poised for a deep run this week. He has recovered from some injuries that plagued his summer.
“This week means a lot to me,” he said. “I was in good shape before Montreal. The swing in Europe and on clay I was doing well, and then unfortunately I sprained my ankle. So to be back here and win a good match in the first round and then have a second good match tomorrow night, it’s good to finally be ready for the US.”
Monfils needed only 52 minutes to dispatch the Argentine, winning 62 of the match’s 103 points. He served well, never faced a break point, and was 4 of 9 on break opportunities.
Monfils is again the featured match tonight beginning at 7:00 PM on Center Court. His opponent is Spain’s seasoned tour veteran, Tommy Robredo. This matchup with Robredo will be an encore of their classic match at Roland Garros this year, when Robredo fought back from two sets down to win in five sets.
The Monfils/Robredo match up tonight should provide tennis fans a high level of exciting quality tennis. Monfils will sure give the fans a taste of what makes him the ATP World Tour’s biggest showmen.
I know Alan is looking forward to it.
All photos copyright Bowman Gray IV 2013.