Can the French star shine on clay at home?

Gael Monfils in action ahead of the ATP Lyon Open.

Gaël Monfils, 37, is ranked 37th in the world, a feat few can emulate at that age. Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Fabio Fognini and Richard Gasquet are not part of the Top 50.

“Sometimes, I won’t lie, I was a little doubtful,” he told the Guardian. “I’m getting a little older. I got hurt. You have to do all this (work). It’s not easy to come back here.

Monfils has won twelve ATP titles but is yet to win a major and this year seems far from that.

For him, the clay court of Roland-Garros constitutes a challenge. In a recent episode of the UTS podcast ‘All on the Table’, he said: “When I was younger, I loved clay. It was my favorite surface. But now it’s the surface I hate the most. It’s more physical for me… I pretend to run fast.

In 2022, he won his eleventh title in Adelaide without dropping a set, beating sixth-seeded Tommy Paul, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Juan Manuel Cerúndolo and second-seeded Karen Khachanov. However, after his participation in the Madrid Open, he underwent heel surgery. He missed Roland-Garros 2022 as well as the entire grass season. Upon his return to Montreal, ready to break through, he injured his foot during a match against Jack Draper, ending his season prematurely.

In 2023 he made his debut at the Laver Cup and at the Stockholm Open he won his twelfth title as the lowest ranked player to do so, becoming the oldest champion in the history of the tournament. He gained 50 places in the rankings.

In 2024, his form has been difficult. At the Qatar Open he entered as a wild card, reaching his first semi-final, defeating Botic van de Zandschulp, Zhizhen Zhang and Ugo Humbert. The Frenchman, however, lost to Jakub Mensik 6-4 1-6 6-3.

His performance at Indian Wells propelled him into the Top 50. He defeated Max Purcell, eighth-seeded Hubert Hurkacz, and twenty-eighth-seeded Cameron Norrie, advancing to the fourth round of the tournament.

He reached a new milestone in his career at the Miami Open, marking his 550th victory, becoming the second Frenchman in the Open era to achieve this feat, behind Richard Gasquet.

In Portugal, during the Estoril Open 2024, he climbed into the Top 40 after a performance in the round of 16.

Returning to Roland-Garros in 2024, he faces for the second time the Brazilian challenger Thiago Seyboth Wild, young talent and number 1 player in his country. The Frenchman won in their last meeting 7-5 6-4. Although both have been inconsistent this season with Monfils winning 12 of 24 matches and Seyboth Wild 12 of 26, Monfils has the chance to be the dark horse in this tournament with the help of his enthusiastic home crowd.

While Gaël Monfils returns to the tournament where he reached the semi-finals in 2008, he also returns to his Parisian home ground. A steep climb awaits a battle to regain form and go deep into the tournament. His season, perhaps plagued by inconsistencies, has also had some bright moments and the support of his home crowd might just give him the extra boost he desperately needs.

Main photo credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

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