There are certain words frequently attached to Gael Monfils.
Athletic, charismatic, flamboyant, care-free, talented, unique, infuriating, under-achieving… and the latest label, courtesy of seven-time grand slam champion and now ESPN commentator, John McEnroe; unprofessional.
The American’s scathing attack on the Frenchman came during a puzzling US Open semi-final which saw Monfils use some interesting tactics to try and throw Novak Djokovic off his game.
Such tactics included standing a few feet inside the baseline on the Djokovic first serve, chipping the ball back with no pace whatsoever from a fully upright standing position.
Monfils says he was trying to get in Djokovic’s head and the strategy briefly worked, as Monfils fought back from 0-5 to 3-5 down in the opening set.
He mixed things up later on and managed to take the third set but he never found a real solution to stop Djokovic from entering a 21st grand slam final.
Some, including McEnroe, criticised Monfils and accused him of not trying hard enough. The crowd booed the French No10 seed when he double-faulted during the match and he later walked into the press conference room to rightfully defended himself against such accusations.
McEnroe has been under-fire throughout the fortnight for his commentating, and blatant lack of research that results in him resorting to giving hot takes rather than actual, well-founded thoughts.
So while it’s understandable that Monfils would feel hurt by receiving such criticism from a legend of the game and would find the need to respond to it, in reality McEnroe’s comments should not carry more weight than they deserve. The American thinks he is getting paid to launch vicious, baseless attacks on players, rather than be objective and constructive on national television.
What worries me is not what McEnroe said, but how many tennis fans, journalists and followers reacted to Monfils’ match.
You see, we love Monfils when he is hitting 360-degree behind-the-back shots, faking out his opponents by tying his shoelaces mid-point or leaping five metres high to slam down an overhead.
But we don’t when he applies unorthodox tactics to try and overturn a 0-12 losing record against the world No1.
We like that you’re different, Gael, but not when you’re too different. We admire that you’re unique, but don’t be too unique. We want you to entertain us, but only in a way that conforms to our own definition of entertainment.
Can’t we for once appreciate a character and an athlete for who he or she is – not who we want them to be – without placing clauses and disclaimers?
Monfils: If I have a mic, I would say to the audience that stop saying that I'm unprofessional.The guy is killing me pic.twitter.com/E1tbWxkGSb— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 10, 2016
We live in an era where players like Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal spent years hovering around the realm of perfection, so why don’t we just let the Monfilses of the world dazzle us with their daring imperfections?
Monfils is a player who makes sure he is enjoying himself every moment he spends on the travelling circus that is the tennis tour. It makes sense that his fans would wish he can show consistency and form that match his talent and potential but his true fans will also know that he is living and competing on the circuit the only way he knows how.
He is content with his life on tour and we might as well get on board with that, to truly appreciate him while he is around.
Djokovic, like many of us, said that semi-final on Friday was a “strange match”, while Monfils asked reporters: “Strange match why?”
The Frenchman is the way he is because what he views as normal, we view as strange. Here’s hoping his strangeness – in the face of all this scrutiny – never wanes.
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