Gael Monfils will look to finish his career-best season on a high on one of the biggest stages in tennis, as he takes to the courts at the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time. After withdrawing from the BNP Paribas Masters to prepare, Monfils has confirmed that he is fully fit and ready to take to the courts of the O2 Arena on Sunday. The Frenchman has a newfound focus and consistency this year and it has shown in his results.
The Frenchman began the year at the Australian Open, where he made the quarterfinals before losing out to Milos Raonic in four sets. His first final of the year followed shortly after at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, where an inspired Martin Klizan overcame Monfils in three sets. Monfils then went on to make the quarterfinals at both the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open before heading into the clay season.
Monfils began the clay stretch by making the third Masters 1000 final of his career at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where he convincingly defeated compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga along the way before losing out in the final to Rafael Nadal in three sets. His progress on the clay was then cut short as a viral infection forced Monfils to suffer a couple of early losses in both Madrid and Rome. The same illness forced him to withdraw from his home grand slam at Roland Garros. He managed to play at Wimbledon despite still not feeling completely recovered but lost in the first round.
After fully recovering, he bounced back at the Citi Open, where he claimed the first ATP 500 title of his career. Monfils defeated Ivo Karlovic in the final after coming back from a set and a break down and saving championship point in the second set tiebreak. He continued his great form into the Rogers Cup the following week where he defeated David Goffin and Milos Raonic on the way to the semifinals, where he lost out to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
Monfils then went on to reach the quarterfinals at the Olympics, where after a great win over Marin Cilic, he was defeated by Kei Nishikori after having three match points. After having to withdraw from the third round of the Western and Southern Open, Monfils again made a great comeback to go on a career-best run at the US Open. He cruised into the semifinals without dropping a set, marking Monfils' second appearance in a grand slam semifinal and first since Roland Garros 2008. He eventually lost out to Novak Djokovic in four sets, in what was one of the strangest matches of the year.
Since making the semifinals at the Rakuten Japan Open, Monfils has fallen early in both Shanghai and Stockholm and hasn't played since. He withdrew from the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris to make sure he is fully fit for the World Tour Finals.
For his first appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals, Monfils has been drawn into the Ivan Lendl group alongside Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic and fellow first-time qualifier Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic is a nightmare matchup for Monfils, as the Serb leads the head to head 13-0. Djokovic has already managed to earn two wins over the Frenchman this year, the last being in the semifinals of the US Open where Monfils managed to win a set but eventually lost in four. The Frenchman has since admitted to suffering a psychological block against the Serb and will be looking to change his fortunes at the O2 Arena.
Monfils leads the head to head against Raonic 3-2, but Raonic leads 2-1 in 2016. They last met in the quarterfinals of Raonic's home tournament the Rogers Cup, where the Frenchman dispatched the big-serving Canadian in straight sets. Raonic's two wins came in a tough four-set battle at the Australian Open and a straight sets victory in the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open.
Thiem and Monfils haven't met this year and have only played each other once in the past, where Thiem ousted Monfils 1-6 6-3 6-1 in Umag last year. The pair were due to meet at the Cincinnati Masters but the Frenchman was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Chances of progression
Monfils should feel good about his chances of making it through to the semifinals. Djokovic is undoubtedly the favorite to come out on top of the group but there isn't a clear favorite for the second spot in the semis. With question marks surrounding the form of Raonic and Thiem, Monfils could well take advantage and make the semifinals of the tournament on his first appearance.
If the Frenchman does advance to the semifinals there will be a tough opponent will be waiting from the nightmare John McEnroe group, where Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic have been drawn. Monfils hasn't beat Murray in six years and doesn't have any wins over Nishikori. He has better luck against Wawrinka who he is tied in the head to head 2-2 and Cilic who he has two three-set wins over, the most recent of which being at the Olympics this year.
The Frenchman should feel good about his chances of making the semifinals, but anything past that would be a huge ask. Monfils has shown that he is capable of bringing out his best on the biggest stages in the sport in the past and assuming he is fully fit, he should be up to the challenge as he takes to the courts of the O2 Arena for the first time.