In a entertaining match sure to make headlines from Paris to the French Riviera, two top French tennis stars met head to head in the third round of the 2010 U.S. Open. Although both have been heralded as enfants terrible since their first appearance on the tour, neither has yet delivered fully on his potential. On Labor Day at the U.S. Open, Monfils, the 17th seed, carried the day, winning over the unseeded Gasquet in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. Both men are 24 years old.
Coddled Underachievers on the ATP Tour
Both Gael Monfils (gay-el mawn-feece) and Richard Gasquet (ree-shard gas-kay) have been called coddled underachievers throughout most of their professional careers to date. Both were highly successful juniors who failed to gain the maturity needed for the very top ranks of the men’s field. According to CBS commentators John McEnroe and Jim Courier, the French Tennis Federation is known for coddling their top players. Even though, to their credit, each has gone outside the French brotherhood to find a tougher coach, according to McEnroe and Courier, the strategy has not proved particularly successful.
Physically, the two could hardly be more different. At 6’4″ the dark-skinned Monfils is a major presence on the court, especially since he is muscular and agile-leaping, sliding, and leaning as needed to get his racquet to the ball. You can well imagine him succeeding in almost any sport due to his comprehensive athleticism and intensity. He wears the sleeveless muscle shirt to show off his assets. The pale Gasquet with his trademark backward baseball cap is much more compact and conventional in his movement. He claims to be 6’1″ tall, but I have seen him in person and he seems smaller than that.
Gasquet Kisses and Tells
Both players have reputations for being less than 100 percent dedicated to the training and self-discipline needed to perform at the top of the game. Gasquet is currently 38th in the world and climbing back up the rankings after a 2009 suspension for a positive drug test which left his reputation in tatters. It did not help matters that he claimed the drug (cocaine) entered his system from extended kissing with a female he just met in a nightclub well known as a drug den!
Although the International Tennis Federation had suspended him for two years, he managed to convince an “independent tribunal” in London that he had not deliberately used cocaine. The tribunal, which bought his story about the kissing, reduced his sentence to just two months. (Source: July 15, 2009 article in the Times of London).
Monfils the Showman
The expressive Monfils is a consummate showman who seems to prefer the dramatic snatch-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat moves to a smarter, more measured approach to winning points and winning games. He is strong and tall enough to be a big server, but he seems to reserve the power serves for the desperate moments and key turning points. Monfils has all the talent to be a top 10 or even top 5 player, but he languishes at 19th in the world.
Although he was the number one junior player in 2004, he has won only two minor titles on the pro tour. His aggressive movement around the court has probably contributed to a rash of injuries over the years. Being almost perpetually injured has made it difficult for him to train and be in top shape for the big tournaments. Some have suggested that he exaggerates the severity of his injuries at times.
Other French Players at the U.S. Open
The highest ranking French player is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (ranked 11th in the world), who was unable to make the trip to the U.S. Open due to injury. Gilles Simon lost to Rafa Nadal in the third round, while Julien Benneteau lost to Tommy Robredo in the second round. Veteran French player Arnaud Clement, 32, had an unexpected run at the Open, defeating 16th seed and resurgent player Marcos Baghdatis in the first round. Clement lost to Mardy Fish in the 3rd round.
In fact, while the French brought a total of 43 players to the U.S. Open in New York, including juniors, the only seeded men’s singles player was Gael Monfils, seeded 17th. By defeating Gasquet, Monfils moves into the quarter-finals at the Open for the first time in his career. He will play against the third seed, Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Djokovic has to be seen as the heavy favorite in that matchup.
The Top 21 French Male Singles Tennis Players with World Rank as of August 30, 2010
Note that Nicolas Mahut, who performed so well in the 11 hour marathon match at Wimbledon with John Isner is 21st among French men and ranked only 158th in the world!
11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
19 Gael Monfils
35 Michael Llodra
37 Julien Benneteau
38 Richard Gasquet
42 Gilles Simon
64 Jeremy Chardy
66 Florent Serra
68 Arnaud Clement
78 Stephane Robert
109 Paul-Henri Mathieu
115 Edouard Roger-Vasselin
122 David Guez
137 Josselin Quanna
152 Adrian Mannarino
158 Nicolas Mahut
CBS Coverage of the Monfils vs. Gasquet 3rd round match at the U.S. Open, September 7, 2010.
Website of the ATP Tour
Website of the U.S. Open
“Richard Gasquet ‘Kiss and Tell’ Beats Drug Ban” by Neil Harman in The Sunday Times (Times of London) on line, July 15, 2009.