In the first two months of the season, Gael Monfils compiled a stunning 16-3 win/loss record. The Frenchman’s only losses came at the hands of Australian Open finalists, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem. Monfils also managed to pick up two main-tour titles at Montpellier and Rotterdam. In his last tournament before the pandemic break, Monfils had three match points against Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships. Despite blowing them and losing the match, it looked like this season might bring fantastic results for the 34-year-old. But seven months later and just a month after the tour restarted, it’s clear that the momentum is all gone now.
Where’s that form now?
The Frenchman and his team decided to focus on the clay-court season, not participating in the New York “bubble” events. As the first tournament back, Monfils chose Rome, a tournament he made the semifinals 14 years ago (lost to Nadal). But it was a clear false start, with Monfils struggling to keep the ball in play throughout his match against Dominik Koepfer. The Frenchman made 31 unforced errors in a 2-6 4-6 loss, with the especially worrying number of 20 leaking from his forehand.
The next stop on Monfils’ comeback trail was the Hamburg European Open. Yannick Hanfmann might seem like a decent draw but the German recently finished runner-up in Kitzbuhel and won a Challenger Tour event in Todi. Despite just 2,300 people allowed daily onto the grounds in Hamburg, the crowd that showed up did their best to help the home court player as well. Hanfmann completely dominated the game on his forehand and with his mix of big serves and beautiful variety, managed a straight-set win over the third seed.
Monfils opened up to his fans on social media after the match, thanking for all the support he’s receiving. He stated that “it is not easy to accept” his poor disposition but expressed the will to keep fighting for better results. The Frenchman will now get a couple of days practice before Roland Garros comes around. Monfils will be seeded 9th at the Paris Slam. He is a four-time quarterfinalist and one-time semifinalist at this event. However, the last time he made the final eight at the French Open was six years ago.
Hi all, I wanted to share some news with you since my return to the Tour in Rome and Hamburg. I haven’t been feeling great on the court and it is not easy to accept. This period is a little complicated but I will continue to fight, train and hope for better results soon,part1/2
— Gael Monfils (@Gael_Monfils) September 22, 2020
Struggling with the transition to clay
Later that day in Hamburg, top-seeded Daniil Medvedev was eliminated by Ugo Humbert. The Russian has been playing well after the restart, losing in the US Open semifinals to the eventual champion, Dominic Thiem. However, his pre-Roland Garros warm-up was also short-lived, as Humbert put up a clinical performance to win 6-4 6-3. Medvedev started the match dominating his own service games and led 4-3 with a break under his belt. But as Humbert started fighting back, the Frenchman’s lefty forehand began to bring him more and more points. The Russian allowed his opponent a bit too much space and Humbert was able to perform many well-prepared attacks. He also barely showed signs of nerves as he clinched the victory with an ace.
Medvedev is still relatively fresh on the tour and his clay resume contains a lot of mixed results. After knocking out Novak Djokovic at Monte Carlo last year, the Russian lost the semifinal match to Dusan Lajovic. He then proceeded to play great in Barcelona, but ended his clay season with four defeats in a row. The most disappointing one was the one at Roland Garros, as Medvedev blew a two-set lead against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The Russian is yet to win a match at the Paris slam. While the initial instinct tells us that his defensive style should work on clay, his results have been pretty underwhelming. Perhaps it is due to his flat strokes that don’t perform as well on a surface dominated by big top-spin hitters. With the French Open just around the corner, Medvedev isn’t really perceived as one of the title favorites.
Getting some practice in
At his Sunday pre-tournament press conference, Medvedev mentioned that he practiced a few days on clay in Monaco before coming to Hamburg. “I try to play as many tournaments as I can after the COVID break.” said the Russian. “You need to get a lot of matches to feel well. Of course, going far in Cincinnati and the US Open helped a lot”.
He also stated that he chose to play this event because it would be unwise “to go play out-of-five in French Open without having one match on clay. Especially as clay is not my best surface, so (doing that) was not a good choice”. Another reason was having good memories from the 2016 edition, scoring one of his first big wins (over Jan-Lennard Struff). As it turns out, the one match he mentioned is all he will get at this year’s Hamburg European Open.
Main Photo from Getty.