Fils-Monfils: Team Europe’s French Connection
There’s something different about Gaël Monfils these days.
There’s the inevitable fatherly glow, of course. (He and wife,WTA star Elina Svitolina, welcomed their first child, Skaï, in October 2022.) But there’s something else, too. As if he’s busy soaking in every last endorphin-inducing moment, a man fully aware that, at 37, there are only so many of them still ahead.
Tennis fans, in Paris, in Toronto, in Flushing Meadows, are picking up on it, embracing one of the sport’s great showmen like never before.
“I don’t have 10 years left; I have maybe one, two, three. They can see how I’m enjoying it,” said the Frenchman this week in Vancouver, where he’s making his Laver Cup debut. “I was 18; now I’m 37. They maybe appreciate me differently. The vibes you put out on the court, of course, are different now. I love playing the big matches, but my priorities are somewhere else now. I’m happy to make the sacrifice to compete, to give them a great show and also to enjoy myself.
There’s not much outside of that ever-elusive Grand Slam title that Monfils hasn’t already done since he turned pro in 2004, the year he took three of the four Junior Grand Slam titles. He crossed the 500-win mark in 2021; owns 11 career titles; twice finished inside the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings; and won some epic Davis Cup matches for his homeland. But the Laver Cup nod was his first.
“It’s a great honor,” he said during a photo shoot along Vancouver Harbour. “It’s something you want to be part of. You want to check this off your bucket list.”
Longtime ATP colleague Stan Wawrinka, 38, recently spoke of his reticence to walk away from the sport that for so long has been his livelihood, saying, “The passion and the love of the game — I know the day I stop, I will never find those emotions anywhere.” Monfils wholeheartedly agrees. For the Parisian, that passion, that love of the game, is still very much alive.
“Yes, if not, I wouldn’t play,” he said. “The toughest thing for me is that I want to be with my daughter as much as I can. But I still really love my routine and the sport.
The sport is in my DNA. Practice, train, sweat. To be on the big stage, it’s something that you can’t describe. That’s why I keep playing.
As for what the future holds, Monfils says he will take it as it comes.
“It will be different, for sure. It’s already different. But I’ve been so blessed to play for over 20 years. I know it’s going to be the end at some stage. I just want to enjoy it. I don’t know how I will replace this, but I can’t wait to discover it.”
Monfils is nearly twice the age of another Laver Cup debutant, countryman Arthur Fils, at 19 the youngest member of the Top 50 (No. 44).
“I’ve been watching him play since I was so young,” said Fils, who started the year ranked No. 251. “To play an event with him, it’s like something I dreamed of. I’m really happy to be on the same team with him. We’ve been practicing together. We might even play doubles together, I don’t know. That would be fun. He’s like my uncle.”
“He’s helping me a lot, giving me advice, for sure,” added Fils, before stopping short.
“I cannot say what,” he laughed. “It’s private.”
“I’ve known him for a long time,” said Monfils. “We’ve been chatting, even before he cracked the Top 100 and before he won his first title. I always told him, ‘Feel free to call me.’ He’s from France, so I want to protect him.”
“Big personality,” said Team Europe Captain Bjorn Borg of Monfils. “Everybody loves to see him play. What he’s doing on the court, he plays unbelievably good tennis. He had a great summer this year. I think Arthur can learn few things from Gael, because he’s been around for so many years.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Fils, who, after capturing a Challenger title in Oeiras, Portugal, in January, reached back-to-back ATP 250 semifinals on home turf in Montpellier and Marseille. His first tour-level title came in Lyon in May. In July, the powerful all-courter took out future Laver Cup teammate Casper Ruud, then ranked No. 4, en route to the semifinals of the ATP 500 event in Hamburg.
His addition to Team Europe feels like a real stamp of approval.
“I’ve been watching this on TV for three or four years,” he said. “Now I’m part of it. It’s a big experience to be close to all these great guys.”
Not only is Fils a part of it, he will play the very first match of Laver Cup 2023 when he goes up against another fast-rising star in 20-year-old American Ben Shelton. Talk about getting thrown into the fire. But he’s not alone. He’s got Monfils, his captain, and his teammates behind him.