All eyes were on Jannik Sinner Sunday, when the Italian successfully defended his Sofia Open title and lifted his third trophy of the season. But during the trophy ceremony, the champion was quick to recognise his opponent, Gael Monfils.
“Gael, great week. Unlucky in some moments today, but we’ve had some great fights, some great matches. Obviously congrats to you and your team,” Sinner said. “Tennis needs you, it really needs you.”
The Frenchman has been one of the most entertaining players on the ATP Tour for more than 15 years thanks to his high-flying game. But he entered last week’s ATP 250 event in Metz with a 9-13 record on the season. Monfils did not win consecutive matches until Toronto in August and his FedEx ATP Ranking slipped from the Top 20 for the first time in a year-and-a-half.
“It’s not easy to be honest, to have no crowd,” Monfils said after the Sofia semi-finals. “It’s not something that I like to do.”
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The 10-time ATP Tour titlist has been open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic about it being tough for him to compete with limited fans or no fans at all. The Frenchman loves to thrill crowds with his stunning defence and jaw-dropping shotmaking, including leaping smashes like he hit against Sinner in Sunday’s final.
But over the past two weeks, Monfils has shown signs of his vintage form. The 35-year-old advanced to his first tour-level semi-final of the season in Metz and went one step further this week in Sofia by making the final.
“It’s always great to put yourself in that position,” Monfils said. “To have the chance to maybe lift another title.”
Monfils fell short, and is still pursuing his first tour-level crown since Rotterdam last February. But he has now advanced to at least one final in 17 consecutive seasons.
“It means that I’ve been playing for a long time. That’s first of all,” Monfils said, cracking a laugh. “It means that somehow every year, once in the year I could pull out one final or two.
“It’s strange, to be honest, to have that. But I’m proud of it and hopefully I can have many more years.”
Monfils, who was back up to World No. 20 this week and is projected to climb again on Monday, is still a dangerous opponent for anyone. He will try to show that at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where he is a two-time quarter-finalist.
“I’m going to keep working. Obviously every tournament is different,” Monfils said. “Hopefully I will have a great feeling to start Indian Wells.”