US Open 2016

Djokovic resists Monfils' antics

Novak Djokovic returning a shot in his semi-final victory over Gael Monfils. The Serb overcame Monfils' efforts to put him off, dispatching him in four sets to reach the final where he will face Stan Wawrinka.
Novak Djokovic returning a shot in his semi-final victory over Gael Monfils. The Serb overcame Monfils' efforts to put him off, dispatching him in four sets to reach the final where he will face Stan Wawrinka.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Serb surprised by Frenchman's unorthodox strategy but makes final as Wawrinka awaits

NEW YORK • Novak Djokovic's strange US Open path took another odd turn as the defending champion defied the controversial tactics of Gael Monfils to book a title showdown with Stan Wawrinka today.

World No. 1 Djokovic of Serbia prevailed 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in a bizarre semi-final on Friday that saw the 10th-seed Frenchman roundly booed and accused of not trying.

The Serb admitted he was "completely caught off guard" when Monfils, down 0-5 in the first set within 15 minutes, stood lackadaisically in the court and began chipping the ball back.

Monfils hit hard, he hit soft, down the middle and almost into the cheap seats. He shrugged, he limped, he laughed and occasionally looked as if he might give up and walk away.

He stood motionless two feet inside the baseline to receive, then burst into life, sometimes with the intended result, often to disastrous effect.

He double-faulted at 220kmh on second serve. He rescued lost causes and created more of them. He served 11 aces and 11 double-faults. At the end, he was bent over his racket between nearly every point.

But the strategy paid off as Monfils reeled off three games in a row.

"I WASN'T TANKING"

I tried to get inside Novak's head. There's not only one way to play tennis.

GAEL MONFILS, French tennis player, defending his choice of strategy during his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic.

"If I would get to the net he would go for the passing shot and hit some impossible gets and balls. But that's Gael," Djokovic said.

Monfils insisted his strange tactics were deliberate as he blasted accusations of not putting in his best.

"I tried to get inside Novak's head," he said. "There's not only one way to play tennis. I signalled to my coaches that I'm going to try Plan B.

"It was a great strategy, I think. When I tried to play 'original' tennis, he kills me."

It was Djokovic who emerged with the first set, however, and by the sixth game of the second set, the Frenchman had won just nine points, which he managed to nudge into double figures by the end of it.

Monfils, playing in only his second Grand Slam semi-final after making the last four at the 2008 French Open, theatrically hobbled off the court and was jeered.

"I think the crowd disliked his efforts towards the end of the second set. I think he felt like he needed to step it up and start to play better, which he did," Djokovic said.

After giving back an early break in the fourth, Djokovic had treatment on his right shoulder, but he broke twice more to seal the win.

He next faces third seed Wawrinka, who withstood an early onslaught from sixth-seed Kei Nishikori of Japan to claim a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Although Djokovic holds a 19-4 record over Wawrinka, including two wins since the Swiss stunned the Serb in last year's French Open final, Wawrinka welcomed the chance to take on Djokovic again.

"To play Novak again, it will be very special," he said.

Wawrinka's arduous path to the final included saving a match point in the third round against Britain's Dan Evans.

The Swiss has spent 17hr 54min on court, slightly more than double that of Djokovic's 8hr 56min after one walkover and two retirements from the Serb's opponents.

"He (Nishikori) dictated play early tonight, put pressure on me and gave me no time," Wawrinka said.

"I had to wait and fight and make him uncomfortable. He got tired and I started to be more aggressive."

Wawrinka, who was in the US Open semis for the third time in four years, was delighted to finally make it to the final.

"I am really excited," he said. "I have seen the final here on TV many times, watching Roger (Federer), Rafa (Nadal), Novak."

"To tell myself I will be in the final, it is something crazy."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

US OPEN
Day 15: StarHub Ch201, 11.55pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 11, 2016, with the headline 'Djokovic resists Monfils' antics'. Print Edition | Subscribe