Celebrating The Showman: Gael Monfils Claims 500th Win
Gael Monfils has graduated to an elite group 17 years since he first sounded his potential as an athletic French junior World No. 1 on his ATP Tour debut. Ten career titles, two Grand Slam semi-finals, two Davis Cup runner-up showings and three ATP Masters 1000 finals later, the 34-year-old secured his 500th tour-level victory with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Alex de Minaur at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati Wednesday.
"I feel great. Obviously I'm happy to get the 500th win under my belt. It's a great achievement and I'm very proud," Monfils said. "It's a blessing and I'm very happy about it."
Having already scooped three of the four junior Grand Slams in 2004, that first match win came as a wild card against Belgian Xavier Malisse on home soil at the Moselle Open in Metz before a fellow highly touted compatriot, Richard Gasquet, had his number. Following a frustrating run of form since the pandemic first set in last year, the World No. 18 finally had cause to celebrate after he followed the likes of Gasquet to become only the 11th active player to reach the 500-wins milestone.
"It's been a while I've been playing. To be honest just before coming here, I didn't really know that I was that close and now 500, if I think about it, it's a big number," Monfils said. "It's been a lot of wins over the years. I never thought that when I started I would be at that amount of wins."
Gasquet, who with 560 match wins has more victories than any other Frenchman in the Open Era, enjoys watching his countryman play.
“His athleticism is special because he’s so fast. He can do track, he can do everything. For sure he’s the fastest player on Tour,” Gasquet said. “It’s very spectacular to see him play, especially when you play against him… He’s one of the best players I like to watch.”
Davis Cup compatriot and former Top 10 contemporary Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (465 wins) paid tribute to Monfils as part of a quartet of gifted Frenchmen, which also includes Gilles Simon. Monfils is the second of the four after Gasquet to pass the 500 match-wins milestone.
“The accomplishment is big for us. I can say that now, because during my career it was never enough what we did,” Tsonga said. “But today, we know that we played with the three best tennis players ever. It is something we can be proud of because we played during this generation and we won a lot.
“All of us won almost 500 matches and that’s just amazing. In France, we always have been treated like the guys who lose because of these three guys who won everything. Today we can say proudly that it was a good performance that we did.”
500 MATCH-WINS CLUB
Over the course of his career, the enormously talented Frenchman has built a sizeable following, thanks largely to his exceptional movement and showy shot-making, with an ability to dive and slide for winners from all corners. While a danger on all surfaces, it took Monfils 12 years to compile his best season, which took him to a career-best mark of World No. 6 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in November 2016.
That banner season included a runner-up appearance at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, a maiden ATP 500 title in Washington, D.C. – in which he saved a championship point against Ivo Karlovic – and only his second Grand Slam semi-final appearance at the US Open. It was enough to catapult him into the Nitto ATP Finals in London.
Monfils had not reached a Grand Slam semi-final since he set French hopes soaring with a run to the last four at Roland Garros eight years earlier. Despite his defeat to Roger Federer in four sets in that 2008 semi-final, he was the first Frenchman since Sebastien Grosjean in 2001 to progress as far at his home major.
FRANCE'S OPEN ERA MATCH-WINS LEADERS
Tour-level success came quickly for Monfils following his Metz debut. His first ATP Tour title came nine months later against Florian Mayer in Sopot. It was the highlight of a breakout 2005 season, which also included his first two ATP Challenger trophies in Besançon and Tunis, and two more Tour-level finals – both on home soil – in Metz and Lyon.
He soared 200 places in the FedEx ATP Rankings to finish the season behind only Gasquet and Grosjean as the third-best Frenchman and picked up the ATP Newcomer of the Year award.
Monfils has reached at least one Tour-level final every year since his 2005 triumph, but remains in the hunt in Cincinnati for his first final in what has been a challenging 2021. The Frenchman makes no secret of his struggles playing with next to no crowds since he collected his ninth and 10th career trophies back-to-back in Montpellier and Rotterdam in February last year.
But for now, it’s time to celebrate win No. 500.