Gael Monfils won his first match in 15 months on Tuesday, defeating Brazilian Thiago Seyboth Wild 7-5, 6-4. After recovering from 0/40 when he served for the match to advance to the second round, the Frenchman launched a ball into the stratosphere, with no fans in site. It was partly a release of tension after a tough final game, and also a happy moment for the fifth seed.
“It was a little pleasure in a way. I was thinking you’re in a big stadium and obviously you want to send it to the crowd, but… there is unfortunately no crowd in the stadium,” Monfils told ATPTour.com. “But it still felt good.”
Monfils wears his heart on the sleeve, and he takes great joy in entertaining fans with his athletic game. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been limited fans or no fans at all, which is the case in Lyon.
“It was very tough for me. That’s why I think I haven’t played so much this year,” Monfils said. “This is not the sort of atmosphere I like to play in. I really like the communication with the fans, with the crowd, their energy. I’ve been struggling quite a lot. But I’ve been working as well quite a lot.”
This is Monfils’ fourth tournament of the season. The World No. 14 had lost eight consecutive matches entering this week, but he is adjusting to make the most of the situation and find the positives to motivate himself.
“I think it took me a long process for me personally to reset myself, to be motivated, try to enjoy what I’m doing,” Monfils said. “I love playing tennis. Tennis is part of my DNA, so it was a little bit longer than other players to settle down and admit to these conditions and try to be as happy as I can.”
Monfils says that having a crowd gives him extra adrenaline and motivation. Even if fans are cheering for his opponent, that pumps him up. And although this period has required adjustments to find other sources of motivation, Monfils is persevering.
“It’s a different adrenaline when it’s an empty stadium. It’s a different motivation,” Monfils said. “The fire is burning differently, and you have to definitely work more to build the fire.”