Seven months ago Gael Monfils retired during his third-round match in Montreal against Jack Draper because of a foot injury. The Frenchman “thought it was all good”. However, he had suffered a plantar fascia rupture, and has not competed since.
The 36-year-old has been all smiles in the California desert, where he is ready to make his comeback Wednesday evening at the BNP Paribas Open against Australian Jordan Thompson.
“I feel great,” Monfils told ATPTour.com. “It’s been a couple months now I’m away. At the same time, I have a couple weeks without my little princess. It’s the first time, it’s the first feeling like that. It’s a mixed feeling, but in a positive way.”
Monfils’ “little princess” is his daughter, Skaï, who was born in October. This is Monfils’ first tournament since he and his wife, WTA star Elina Svitolina, welcomed their daughter to the world.
“I was with her since day one and now to get back on the road, it’s a different experience for me. I’ve been great. I’ve been blessed,” Monfils said. “So far she’s healthy and myself too, [I have] gotten back in shape and healthy. I have only positive vibes coming here.”
Gael Monfils” />Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
While Monfils did not want to be injured, the time off worked out well in terms of when he was hurt. It allowed him to experience the most special moment of his life.
“Perfect timing. I say always I try to see the positive in the negative and that was almost the best timing. I could be with my wife at the end of her pregnancy and support her, because it’s never easy the last days and everything,” Monfils said. “And then of course at the beginning as a parent, taking care of the little one as a team. It was great timing for me and also very important. At the end, that’s what matters. That’s life, that’s real life. To be a team there for our baby was great for me.”
It is safe to say Skaï quickly changed the Monfils family’s world. The Frenchman enjoys every moment with her.
“The happiness, it’s crazy. The happiness, the love,” Monfils said. “I can be a little bit tired or unhappy with what I’m doing because I want to be perfect. But as soon as I see my daughter, everything vanishes. It’s a great feeling.”
Monfils has also been working hard to prepare for his return to action. Over the past two months he has improved his fitness and slowly increased the amount of time he has spent on court. He started at once or twice per week before increasing to a full week of tennis along with his physical training. Monfils’ coach did not feel he was ready for the recent European indoor swing, so he fully prepared for an Indian Wells comeback.
“It’s been a long time. I won’t lie, I missed being on the Tour playing, competing, challenging myself. Now I just have the feeling [of love with the fans]. Actually Indian Wells is great because you have fans very close on the practice court. You can feel the energy,” Monfils said. “That definitely was [exciting] for me the few days I came here. I felt great and I felt lucky and blessed that I could actually get back in shape to experience that again.”
The former Top 10 star has also hit at home with his wife, who is also working her way back.
“She’s right there. She’s obviously very motivated to come back. It was actually crazy because she just gave birth and obviously she was super happy, but she really wants to get back very quickly in good shape,” Monfils said. “She wanted to feel that she can play again. She was worried because she hadn’t played for a long time. She picked up the racquet quite good. It was great.
“Now she’s practising, she’s loving it. She’s starting to move a little bit more because at the beginning she couldn’t move so much. But now it’s better and I think she has some goals, so I think she will soon say what she wants to do and when she wants to come back.”
Monfils has goals of his own, one of which is to improve his Pepperstone ATP Ranking enough to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics. He also wants to find his top level to make Skaï proud.
It has been adjustment for Monfils to be away from home, with plenty of FaceTimes helping make up for his distance from family. But the Frenchman hopes his next FaceTime with Skaï will be a special one following his first victory as a father.
“It’s funny because it was the first time [away]. It’s been five days exactly. Now she started to recognise me a little bit,” Monfils said, cracking a laugh. “It’s quite special, so I hope I will have a win under my belt and have the first FaceTime with her.”