Monfils: The Nicest Player On Tour?
At the end of another hot and humid day in Washington, DC, Gael Monfils surely wanted nothing more than to head to his hotel room and relax in air conditioning.
But every time he turned to hop into his tournament-provided vehicle on Monday evening, he kept being stopped.
“Monfils, Monfils!” fans shouted.
So the popular and affable Frenchman halted, gazed at who had said his name and kindly followed their instructions, smiling for back-to-back selfies with grinning fans.
Monfils could easily have begged off, politely declining the requests and waving goodbye. Surely the fans would have understood. The guy wants to go home after a day of work, who could blame him?
But, just as he goes above and beyond with his kindness on the court by saying “Thank you” to ball kids, Monfils extends his generosity to fans as well.
“I think it's the way I am. It's the way I've been raised,” Monfils said on Tuesday at the Citi Open. “I think someone gives you something, you have to say 'Thanks'. I think fans are very important to us... I think I can take a few minutes. It's the minimum that we can do.”
His kindness is noticed. Long-time tennis fan Mark Hicks became one of the countless number of Monfils fans who have posed for a selfie with the six-time ATP World Tour titlist. Hicks snagged Monfils while the Frenchman was rushing between interviews and tournament obligations.
“I sort of was surprised,” Hicks said about Monfils' response, which was to pose and smile even though he was busy. “I think he's a nice guy and that's part of it.”
Hicks, who teaches tennis for the Citi Open beneficiary, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, said he's glad Monfils and other ATP World Tour players take a few minutes to appreciate fans.
“Give a picture. Give a handshake. That's all we want. We aren't trying to corral them or anything like that,” said Hicks, who ranks Monfils as his second-favourite player, behind you know who.
“Everybody loves Roger,” Hicks said in between laughs.
Monfils, however, isn't some lovable loser. The 30 year old arrives in Washington to defend his Citi Open title from a year ago, his maiden and lone ATP World Tour 500 crown.
“It's a great feeling. It's always very good to come back to the place where you played good the year before,” Monfils said. “This tournament suits my game.”
Last year, Monfils saved a match point to beat Croatian Ivo Karlovic for the title, a match that Hicks and thousands of others saw. It was part of a season-long highlight reel for Monfils and his fans.
The 6'4” right-hander qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals in London for the first time and ended the season at No. 7 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, a career-high year-end Emirates ATP Ranking.
This season, injuries have hampered Monfils. He pulled out of Miami, Monte-Carlo and Rome because of injuries to his left knee and Achilles tendon. He arrives in the U.S. capital with a 16-11 record.
But Monfils could be turning his season around just in time for his throngs of fans in Washington. He reached his first final of the year last month, falling to Novak Djokovic in the Aegon International title match in Eastbourne.
Win or lose, you can bet on Monfils making time for ball kids and his fans, as he's done throughout his career.