Gael Monfils has to forget about the possibility of burnout
and play as many smaller tournaments as he can to build confidence for the
After the dominant victory of France over Germany in the
Davis Cup quarter-finals in Stuttgart, Monfils announced that he was ending his
partnership with Roger Rasheed after three years together.
If you were to focus only on ranking, their time together
would be considered a success - Rasheed leaves Monfils inside the top 10.
Gael has spoken of tension with the Australian coach - who
may now join Team Murray with the help of Darren Cahill - for several weeks. He
immediately announced that he will continue to work with Patrick Chamagne, whom
he called his second father, which is not a surprise: I had already noticed
that Chamagne's work had gone beyond his nominal role as fitness trainer.
I remember talking to him right before Gael's match against
Roger Federer at Roland Garros: it was quite clear that his concerns were the
technical and tactical sides of Monfils's game.
I don't know how, but little by little Rasheed and Chamagne
became a training double act, which must have added to the tension between the
Australian and French No.1. I can also guess at the arguments the two coaches
may have shared.
We have seen the limitations of this 'double-headed coach'
situation recently - notably Marjan Vajda/Todd Martin for Novak Djokovic, and
Miles Maclagan/Alex Corretja for Andy Murray - and personally I am not very
fond of the system.
Let us not forget that the priority for top players is to be
able to receive clear messages; that may be why Gael made his choice.
He will now have to focus on preparing for the last Grand
Slam of the season with a schedule that kicks off on clay (Stuttgart, Hamburg)
before a week off ahead of his start of the hardcourt season in Washington,
where he asked for a wild card.
Monfils may have lost early in Stuttgart but I feel he
picked the right option because he is a self-doubting kind of player and needs
to get matches under his belt to build his confidence.
A little comeback on clay, a surface he adores, could help
him to go on a streak in the totally winnable hardcourt events and that could
in turn put him on the right path for the next Slams.
It reminds me of what Juan Martin Del Potro achieved in
2008: he had a turning point by winning two clay titles back-to-back in
Stuttgart and Kitzbuhel, before winning in Los Angeles and Washington - then he
reached the first Slam quarter of his career at the US Open.
Confidence is the key. Besides, going from clay to hardcourt
is not an issue at all for the top players and - as far as gameplans are
concerned - Monfils's flaw (being way too passive) is the same on every
He reaches his peak only when he has enough clear
opportunities to play offensively, symptomatic of players who lack confidence
in their offensive capabilities.
Like Monfils and Del Potro, Rafael Nadal is the kind of
player who needs to play a lot in order to find his confidence.
But a Nadal arriving at a Grand Slam with 10 wins under his
belt has nothing in common with Nadal arriving after a short winning streak:
Nadal with a lot of matches is in a different dimension, although he has the
ability and confidence to hit the winners anyway.
These kinds of obsessive personalities have a lot of doubt
and fear of the first little break in a winning cycle, but the main issue is
the threat of injuries.
The Spaniard and Del Potro have experienced their fair share
of wear-and-tear injuries like tendinitis; Gael, partly because of his
outstanding fitness, has prevented himself from this burn-out.
But Gael's lack of injuries is also partly down to a
relative lack of commitment during the smaller events, so - unlike the more
burnt-out but more 'winning' Nadal and Del Potro - he has never experienced
those long victorious runs.
His on-off focus has kind of saved him fitness-wise, but
impacted negatively in terms of confidence.
On the other hand we have the likes of Del Potro, Nadal and
Davydenko: but a different animal is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whose ego is big
enough to believe in his ability to hit winners so long as he's 100 per cent
committed to the tournament at hand.
He doesn't need a lot of wins in events leading into the
bigger tournaments, where he is usually less motivated anyway.
A lighter schedule around the main events is the best way to
get everything out of Tsonga's potential.
Unlike Tsonga, Monfils does not have this ego, this
self-belief, so he now needs to win a lot with a very dense second half of the
season, and forget about the threat of burnout.