Gael Monfils’ high-wire act has always been a crowd-pleaser. Acrobatic ‘tweeners; gravity-defying overheads; full-stretch, skin-scraping court dives. A gifted mover, the Frenchman covers the court unlike anyone who’s ever picked up a racquet. But with his high-risk/high-reward, margins-be-damned brand of tennis, comes risk.
Monfils, aka La Monf, missed nine majors with an assortment of injuries (knee, shoulder, wrist, etc.) between 2007 and 2016. Last year, the 31-year-old withdrew from six of nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events, an Achilles issue among his woes. He was unavailable for Davis Cup. When he arrived in the desert, a former world No. 6 having slipped to No. 42, he found himself an unseeded BNP Paribas Open entrant for the first time in a decade.
“God gave me such great abilities and sometimes that’s a strength and sometimes it’s not a strength,” said Monfils, who won three of four junior Grand Slam titles in 2004, but has yet to claim one on the pro tour. “It’s just the way it is.”
He started the year with the Doha title, and looked sharp through the first two rounds in Indian Wells. But on Tuesday, his body would betray him once again. After dropping a listless first set to countryman and 93rd-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Monfils took a lengthy, eight-minute injury timeout to have his back attended to. He would return to the court, but following a service break in the fourth game of the second set, walked to the net to halt the match, falling 6-2, 3-1 ret.
“I hurt my back in the second game, then it got worse and worse,” a frustrated Monfils told BNPParibasOpen.com. “I couldn’t really move on the court. I asked [chair umpire] Carlos [Bernardes] to call the trainer because I couldn’t move.”
Herbert, who’s known more for his success on the doubles court with fellow Frenchman Nicolas Mahut (the duo won the US Open in 2015 and Wimbledon in 2016), remains in the running for the $1 million bonus offered to the player who sweeps both the singles and doubles titles at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Herbert next faces upset winner Philipp Kohlschreiber, who shocked No. 2 seed Marin Cilic in Stadium 1, 6-4, 6-4. Despite winning 83 percent (19 of 23) of his first-serve points, Cilic failed to convert any of his four break-point chances. Kohlschreiber, meanwhile, was a perfect two-for-two. He is into the fourth round here for the third time, the first since 2011.