Monfils enters SA Open
Johannesburg - For sheer energy, excitement and entertainment, there are few tennis players in the world to match the magnetic 23-year-old Gael Monfils.
And the announcement on Wednesday that the ATP's 16th-ranked player will be competing in the rejuvenated South African Open was a major boost for the R3.5 million tournament at Montecasino from February 1-7.
Indeed the flamboyant Frenchman was due to compete in this year's event when the South African Open made a stimulating return to the ATP's top tier circuit after 13 years, but an injury to his right wrist in the fourth round of the Australian Open while playing against Gilles Simon immediately before the South African Open, prevented Monfils from coming to Johannesburg.
He has now honoured a commitment he made to the South African Tennis Association at the time to play in South Africa next year and fulfil a long-standing desire to visit the country.
"Not only is he a charismatic and exciting player," said Elliot Themba, senior sponsorship manager of tournament sponsors South African Airways, "but he has a special affinity with Africa and is sure to attract a host of new tennis enthusiasts to the tournament."
On his day capable of beating anyone in the world with his spectacular strokeplay and breathtaking speed, an enigmatic temperament has prevented this gifted athlete from reaching the pinnacle of his profession by annexing a grand slam title.
But Monfils has the ingrained talent to achieve this and under tough, new Australian coach Roger Rasheed, the player who has already reached a world-high ranking of ninth could acquire the mental toughness to go higher.
And the six-foot-four Monfils has already been ranked number one junior in the world when he won junior grand slam titles at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2004.
He beat players of the calibre of Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick last year when an uncanny sequence of wrist injuries prevented him from moving higher than his career-best ninth world ranking.
Gael Sebastien Monfils, who is nicknamed "Lamonf", was born in Paris, while his father was a prominent soccer player on the island of Guadeloup and his mother was a nurse on the island of Martinique before the couple settled in France.
Monfils says his tennis model was Arthur Ashe and he is arguably the most gifted black player since the iconic American.
Had he not decided on a tennis career, Monfils might have ended up a basketball player or musician.
Meanwhile, his pending appearance at the Montecasino gaming and pleasure resort must be music to the ears of South African tennis fans.