Exclusive: Gael Monfils ready to put on a show when Tie Break Tens makes Dubai debut

French player returns to the UAE as part of the series' inaugural event in the Middle East

For a player regarded as one of the most exciting and explosive on the professional tennis circuit, Gael Monfils is ready-made for the Tie Break Tens series.

Good job then that the Frenchman, ranked No 18 on the ATP Tour, will be playing in the event when it makes its Middle East debut in Dubai on Friday.

TB10s is quite unlike any other format in tennis in that there are no games or sets, instead players duke it out over single tie-breaks with the first to 10 points, by a margin of two points, declared the winner. First launched at London's Royal Albert Hall in 2015, the series has since moved around the globe, with stops in Vienna, Madrid, Melbourne, New York, and Indian Wells.

With no ranking points on the line and a tournament which gets played over a single day, TB10s is a fast and frenetic departure from the usual events which comprise the 11-month tennis calendar. It has also so far proved successful in making tennis events more inclusive and engaging, allowing for greater interaction between fans and players.

"Tie Break Tens is a fun and innovative concept, which comes as a great addition to our more traditional tour. It is very fast and anyone can beat anyone," Monfils told The National. "Rankings do not count any more, it's all about being ready to deliver on the spot. Crowds also have a chance to see all their favourite players at once which makes it a very fan-oriented event."

Monfils will be bidding for the winner-takes-all Dh500,000 ($136,130) prize at the Coca-Cola Arena against seven other players, including American Taylor Fritz, who last week reached the Indian Wells semi-finals, former British No 1 Dan Evans, German crowd favourite Dustin Brown, and second-ranked Indian Ramkumar Ramanathan.

Monfils will certainly be confident of getting his hands on the trophy given his fine recent success in the Emirates. The Frenchman has reached successive semi-finals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, in 2019 and 2020, and had three match points against world No 1 Novak Djokovic to reach the final in the latter.

"I have always enjoyed playing in Dubai," he said. "I like the atmosphere and the crowds – especially at night. I think the conditions suit me well to perform. I have been coming more and more over the last years to train in the off season – and I am considering making it a permanent base."

Monfils setting up home in Dubai makes plenty of sense. As he said himself, "Dubai is a renowned hub where you can get to and from anywhere in the world in one direct flight. It makes it the ideal destination for us tennis players, who are always on the go." It probably also helps that his wife, world No 7 Elina Svitolina, is a frequent visitor to the UAE, often conducting off-season training camps in the Emirates, while two of her 16 career titles came back-to-back in Dubai.

As Monfils returns to Dubai nearly 20 months after that thrilling match against Djokovic at the Aviation Club, much has changed. As with most professional sport, tennis was severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and even as it returned after a four-month shutdown, it did so in empty stadiums and amid strict bio-secure bubbles.

On a professional level, the shutdown could not have come at a worse time for Monfils. He secured successive titles early on during the 2020 season and was in the form of his life. As the ATP Tour emerged from the shutdown in the July, Monfils struggled to adapt, going 0-4 for the remainder of the year before calling time on his season after the Vienna Open due to a neck injury.

"I believe I was playing my best tennis before the lockdown when I won back-to-back in Montpellier and Rotterdam and reached the semis in Dubai," Monfils said. "It felt really strange to restart a few months later in empty stadiums. I was missing the energy from the crowd and was not able to perform how I wanted."

Those struggles for form and momentum carried over into 2021, but since a first round defeat at the Tokyo Olympics, Monfils looks to be moving in the right direction. A run to the quarter-finals at the Canadian Masters was followed by a semi-final in Metz and a final appearance in Sofia.

At the age of 35 and having spent nearly half his life on the tour, Monfils knows better than most the peaks and valleys of the tennis circuit. His career has been played out during what is commonly referred to as the 'Big Three' era - a generation dominated by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Djokokic. Still, the Frenchman has enjoyed his fair share of success having amassed 10 ATP Tour titles so far.

Given the historic achievements of the Big Three - all have won a record-equalling 20 Grand Slam titles - as they enter the latter stages of their career, talk has moved to how men's tennis will adapt once the sport's three greatest players eventually hang up their racquets. Monfils, however, believes the future is in safe hands.

"The next generation of tennis players is now very much in place even though I am convinced we will still hear about Roger, Rafa and Novak," he said. "[Daniil] Medvedev is the first to have broken through by winning his first Grand Slam at the US Open, but I am sure Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev will follow shortly. I also rate highly the chances of Jannik Sinner."

The immediate future, as far as Monfils is concerned, is Dubai and the Tie Break Tens on Friday and he will be looking to emulate his wife's success after Svitolina won the women's tournament in New York. Most importantly for Monfils, he is just happy to see fans back out and enjoying live tennis again.

"Tie Break Tens is still a new event so it is important that every part of the world gets a chance to enjoy it," he said. "Fans are the essence of our sport and without them it is not the same."

Updated: October 18th 2021, 3:02 AM
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