Twelve months ago, flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils was in a bad place.
He had just lost in the first round of his last event for the year, the Paris Masters, to countryman Benoit Paire, after achieving a set and two breaks lead.
Aged 29 and perilously close to his inevitable athletic decline, Monfils lamented 2015 as “a year of regrets” where he regressed, and “wasted a year due to certain choices.”
Upon reflecting on his season, his 12th on the pro tour, it’s possible that Monfils had just gotten a sense of his own tennis mortality.
Not far off turning 30, Monfils’ trademark athleticism was about to decline, and was no longer going to serve him the required assistance to compensate for the lacking areas of his game.
About to cross the hump to the wrong side of his tennis career, it was time for Monfils to make up for his year of poor choices with some good ones. No more time could possibly be spent due to inaction.
Monfils’ first move was to sack German head coach Jan de Witt, and hire Swede Mikael Tillstrom, a coach with the Good to Great Tennis Academy, of whom successful students include Stan Wawrinka.
After a year which saw him back into the world top 10 for the first time since 2011, and his biggest title win in his career, it’s fair to say that Monfils is finally done wasting time.
In fact, off the back of his play this year, it seems fair to say that he is busy making up for lost time.
He has so far spent most of 2016 rediscovering the tennis that saw him reach a high of world #7 five years ago, which by the way, he is one spot off equaling as of this week.
He reached his first Masters final since 2010, going the distance with Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo before being outclassed in the last set.
He has so far reached his most finals in a single year since 2010 (3), including his biggest career triumph thus far in Washington.
This year also marks his first trip back to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam (the US Open) since all the way back in 2008 as a 21 year old French Open semi-finalist.
In fact, this latest semi-final run at Flushing Meadows in large pat defines most of what Tillstrom has turned his latest success story from and into.
This year, there was no shot making. There was no power sliding. There was no slam dunk shots, or diving volleys. Or at least they did not define his game, like they had in the past.
Monfils’ run can be described by a word that he has likely never been described before – clinical. Professional, even.
He reached the second last match of the Slam without dropping a set, wiping the court with former top 10 player Nicolas Almagro and former Grand Slam Finalist Marcos Baghdatis.
He took out countryman Lucas Pouille, playing the best tennis of his life, having one round prior taken out Rafael Nadal.
In that match, it even looked as if Monfils had, believe it or not, a game plan.
His groundstrokes, still featuring his trademark power, had been injected with purpose.
He was determined to move his young compatriot around the court, knowing he would be playing to the weakness of a young man who had played three five set matches in a row.
Monfils was the far more experienced player on the court, and this time, you could actually tell that was the case. He never let his fellow fluorescent national get on break point, and hit almost 30 less unforced errors.
30 is a perfect segue to my previous point – that is now Monfils’ age, although he doesn’t look a day older than the 17 year old who turned pro in 2004.
Perhaps this fact is the genius behind what Tillstrom has done with his student.
Monfils has admitted that part of his new focus on tennis has been his fitness, previously a crippling problem, remedied by taking up new training regimes and new methods of recovery.
On the court, Tillstrom has also worked on Monfils’ focus, particularly when it comes to his serve.
In the mold of the name of the tennis academy he helped found, Tillstrom has helped a good serve become great.
In that match against Pouille, Monfils went at 85% with his first serve, with his opponent only able to return 66% in play.
This is something Tillstrom mentioned to French newspaper L’Equipe when he commenced coaching Monfils, that he wanted his student to use his serve and athleticism to become a better serve and volleyer, and ultimately conserve some energy.
In that same interview, he also mentioned that, even though he was now 30, Monfils had the chance to win a Grand Slam.
Whilst they were probably too kind to admit so, it can probably be guessed what they were thinking when those words came out of Tillstrom’s mouth.
Is it maybe start time to believing him? After all, he hasn’t been wrong about Gael Monfils yet.