Eighth-ranked Gael Monfils was widely criticized for it’s actions in the semi-final of US Open against world number one Novak Djokovic. John McEnroe called him for being unprofessional and Victoria Azarenka tweeted that she had never seen the Frenchman so indolent earlier.
Mikael Tillstrom, coach of Gael Monfils, explained when Tennisportalen spoke to him during the week that it was not about a poor attitude, or tanking as one might think, rather more of the tactical aspect. – If you even think he didn’t want to win and fight about it, then you do not understand this game, Tillstrom says.
Mikael Tillstrom, a former top-40 player during his active career as a player and currently part-owner of the Good to Great Academy in Stockholm, took over Monfils services as head coach shortly after the US Open in 2015 and the duo’s collaboration has been very successful.
Gael Monfils is experiencing his highest ranking in five years after reaching his first ever Grand Slam semifinal and winning his maiden title at the Masters level in Washington. His best ever performance at the US Open would though be overshadowed by a tactic that allowed Djokovic to lose his head completely but created a storm of criticism towards Monfils on social media.
– Sometimes you simply have to get your opponents to play worse and it may mean that you play even worse yourself and it was exactly what was done, says Mikael Tillström to the Tennisportal before he continues his reasoning.
– He (Monfils) was a little bit stressed in the semifinals and did not trust his game, especially from the start of the match. Then he slowed down the tempo of the match and started to use the slice a lot, which he may have done to an extreme level, while Djokovic could not play at all and the match became a strange one.
Can you understand those who criticize him for his actions?
– I can understand it, because of how it looked, but at the same time we didn’t want it to turn out it to be a match as the one Cilic lost last year in US Open, 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 and he played in a similar way from the start to the beginning. It may look like it’s fun but it’s also not so funny to not try to change anything.
– Gael did everything to change the outcome of the match and finally he gets to where he finds back to his game, then perhaps I would have wished that he found his game from the beginning but what happens is that he gets so stressed out, meaning he can’t find any rhythm at all and he gets beaten up on every point he tries to play. Which also causes him to “overplay” every point. A quick look up the scoreboard and 0-5 down leads to a stress in itself. “I can not continue like this, because then I will not win a single game”.
How do you build up a game plan against Djokovic, who is as complete as he is? Is there weaknesses in his game that can be exploited?
– No, there isn’t. There will be a few ups and downs and you really have to challenge him when you get the opportunity. It is difficult to serve well against him, almost none do because he returns so extremely well and it will force you to serve even further out and harder. And that often leads to a reduced serve-percentage and you will probably get beat up even more. He also makes you feel much worse than what you are. He is so darn good at what he does!
Before the the players had to fight it out for a spot in the finals of the US Open Djokovic clearly had the upperhand, not only for being the world number but for the head-to-head records. 12-1 in mutual matches against Monfils, a striking hindsight where Djokovic had a massive advantage, not only in numbers but more from the mental aspect. One advantage that obviously affects the game on the line, according to Mikael Tillstrom.
– Of course it matters. Gael knows that the things he usually does very well isn’t enough against Djokovic, even though I think he has improved a lot and is capable of interrupt his (Djokovic) rhythm. The problem is still the factor that if you get a bad start, these bad thoughts will come back to haunt you.
“He didn’t want to win? Then you don’t understand this”
– We played in Toronto (Canadian Masters) a few weeks earlier and Gael was Gael in pretty good shape, even though he was quite worn by Washington. Gael was up 3-1 and eventually it was all about winning as many games as possible as Djokovic won 3-6, 2-6. He doesn’t win that many games after the first four games in the first set and he really feels powerless and don’t know how to win the points. I told him: “You need to do something different in order to change the outcome and not just let it happen and continue with it. Maybe he took it too far against Djokovic but at the same time, he made him play much worse and that is what this is all about. He didn’t want to win? I don’t buy it, because then you don’t understand this.
Apart from the semi-final, how would you sum up the weeks of the US Open?
– Great weeks for us, for sure. Gaels doing his best result at the US Open after his previous quarter-finals and the way he plays up to the semi-final is very positive. We bring a lot of good things with us from the weeks and and although he has played a lot this summer, he manages to keep the level all the time.
How does the schedule look like for the upcoming weeks?
– A little rest and then it will be Tokyo, Shanghai and Stockholm!
Stockholm Open is completely written in stone, then?
– As it looks now, yes. It would be if there would be any unpredictable injuries but it is there in the schedule!