INDIAN WELLS — Gael Monfils says celebrating his victories by doing Black Panther’s ‘Wakanda forever’ salute is his way of showing support to his community and the blockbuster film’s message.
Monfils did the salute after his 6-7(5), 7-6(3), 7-5 victory over 15th-seeded John Isner in the Indian Wells second round on Sunday, as well as his opening round win over Matthew Ebden on Thursday.
“It’s definitely about that. I think that movie is great, it’s great for the community, for our community, it means quite a lot. It’s not just a sign. It’s everything. It’s everything going on and definitely it’s a shout-out saying that I’m supporting the Black Panther’s community,” the Frenchman told reporters in Indian Wells on Sunday.
“It’s a lot going on I think. It’s battling politics, everything you know for our community. I’m following, I have a close friend in France, he is actually really involved and every morning I read every post he does, every interview, his name is Claudy Siar and he’s from Guadeloupe.
“It’s the world in general. I’m not so much involved but sometimes I like to pay attention. When you have movies who help, who give belief and show strength, it’s good.”
Asked if he sees himself as a role model for the community or someone who is vocal about social issues, Monfils said: “Me? I don’t think so, but if I can refer the message with a sign, I do it.”
The Frenchman is not the only player to celebrate a match win by performing the salute. American 22-year-old Sachia Vickery also did it after she upset Garbine Muguruza in the second round.
Football players Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard have also done it during a Manchester United game.
Monfils is one of the more popular tennis players on tour, with his incredible athleticism, flamboyant playing style, and charisma always shining through on the court.
“It’s a blessing, it’s luck, it’s something that means a lot to me,” he said when asked about his adoring fans.
“I try to be myself on the court very naturally, give everything and show my emotion and if people can connect to me, it’s just great and I really appreciate it.”
The 31-year-old Monfils, who was born in Paris and whose father is from Guadeloupe, believes Indian Wells is a unique tournament that allows fans to be close to the players, and joked that the official hotel here is “80 per cent fans, 20 per cent players”.
He describes his experiences with fans in general as a mixed bag of positive and negative, noting the racism he is often subjected to.
“I have good and bad. Bad because basically every match I receive some racist comment and you can cross some racist person,” he explains.
“And then you can have the opposite like super-fans following you, in the street, in the shop, not far where you live. Both are weird a little bit but that’s the way our job is so we take it.”
— Sachia Vickery (@SachiaVick) March 9, 2018
Monfils was ranked as high as No. 6 in the world less than two years ago but is currently down to 42. He next faces his countryman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the third round.
Asked if his level of tennis is where he wants it to be at the moment, Monfils said: “It’s maybe 34 places away from where I want to be, so it’s very far. I think I can play better. I’m just fighting, I’m hanging around, but I’m not playing great tennis.
“Today was a bit better, I served better, I went for my forehand a bit more. But I think I can play better.”