Most of the time, the tennis ball needs to be struck up and over the net, only to fall back down to earth. Viewed from the side the ball’s path would describe a gentle arc, like a parenthesis tipped onto its back.
But on rare occasions, if the ball is sitting up near the net, and if the player is Gael Monfils—built like a ropy swingman, with a vertical leap to match—he can hop up into the air and hit the ball straight down into the court. No arc necessary, just a pure line drive. The ball’s path becomes a violent backslash. To watch Monfils hurl his body into this ball, wind up, and unleash his forehand is to approximate the thwappy satisfaction of whaling on such a ball yourself.
Monfils, currently playing at the season-opening Qatar Open, hit a career-high ranking of No. 6 back in 2016, then tumbled down to No. 46 after an uneven 2017 season. His late-blooming career is not one that fits into any obvious patterns, and there is no telling how the 31-year-old will fare this year. For now just be grateful for a fresh season: Tennis is finally back, and so too are its most electric entertainers.