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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 20:19 GMT 21:19 UK
Monfils makes his mark
By Caroline Cheese
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Gael Monfils
I don't really like grass because I keep falling over
Gael Monfils
Gael Monfils is tipped to be tennis' next big thing, but you wouldn't guess from speaking to him.

As he fiddles with the three charity bands on his wrists, he speaks like any 18-year-old, refreshingly unguarded and completely unfazed by the attention.

A case in point comes when he is asked if he likes playing on grass.

"Not really, no. It's too slippery and I keep falling over," he told BBC Sport.

"I don't really like to run on grass. I like to slide on a court, but when I slide on grass I never stop."

Still, it is perhaps proof of Monfils' potential that he arrived at Wimbledon this year as the reigning junior champion.

And on his debut in the men's event, he beat Israel's Noam Okun in four sets and then dumped out 22nd seed Dominik Hrbaty on Wednesday.

"It's not my favourite surface but I know I have to play on it because it's a good learning experience for me," he said.

MONFILS FACTS
Born: 1/9/86 in Paris
Lives: Paris
Ranked: 83
Coach: Thierry Champion
Hero: Arthur Ashe

"It makes me focus on my serve, my return, maybe go to the net a bit more. Everyone keeps telling me I have to go to the net more."

Monfils had a busy year in 2004, winning three of the four junior Grand Slams and also boosting his senior ranking by more than 600 places.

Despite the expectation surrounding him, he says only one thing about the professional tour has bothered him.

"In juniors, you travel with about 12 other players and you all go to the same tournaments and practise together so it's like being with your friends," he said.

"Now I just have my two coaches with me, so life has changed - but the tennis is the same."

In recent months, Monfils has seen fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet, also 18, reach a career-high ranking of 20 and Nadal, a year older, win the French Open.

But the laid-back Monfils, who joined the senior tour much later than Gasquet and Rafael Nadal, is not worried by comparisons.

In fact, he's looking to put both players in the shade.

"I think I have worked very hard and now I have to keep working to go another step," he said.

"Rafael and Richard have two or three years more experience than me on the tour - so maybe I can get to the top faster than them."

Monfils says he expects British teenager Andy Murray to be joining him in the top 100 very soon, before he adds with a knowing grin: "Maybe he's the next Tim Henman."


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