World No.1 Novak Djokovic defeated Frenchman Gael Monfils on Friday in the first semifinal of the US Open 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in a match where both the players struggled to replicate their best, The Serbian will now face Stan Wawrinka on Sunday in what will be his 6th US Open final.
As far as tennis matches go, what transpired on Friday was one of the strangest, weirdest, and most bewildering experiences ever. Novak Djokovic faced Gael Monfils in the semi-finals of the US open and half way through the night; this seemed more like a stand-up comedy act than an important tennis match.
Novak had become the first man to reach a grand slam semi-final courtesy of 3 walkovers/ retirements, and in layman’s terms that basically meant that for a player of his quality, he’d barely broken a sweat. He had spent just over 6 hours on court and dropped just 1 set en-route to the final, while his counterpart Monfils had spent close to 10 hours on the court, although, he also had not dropped a single set.
Another amazing stat leading up to this match was that Djokovic was undefeated against Monfils in professional matches leading 12-0 in H2Hs. An upset looked unlikely yet likely considering how consistent Monfils had been, and the fact that Djokovic had not had enough game time to be at his prolific best.
The first set was where things started going crazy. Djokovic raced to a 5-0 lead. Monfils looked disinterested, battered, and absolutely helpless at the poor state of his own game. Serving for the first set, there came a point where it became very evident that Monfils had given up on the set and was trying to hand it to Djoko on the platter. But as far as tactics go, this worked like a charm. Djokovic lost his cool and ended up providing Monfils a way back into the set, before eventually winning it 6-3.
The second set followed more of the same pattern. Monfils looked absolutely out of sorts, got broken early, and had no answer to Djokovic playing tennis. I say playing tennis because that is exactly what Djokovic was doing. He was nowhere near his best and there aren’t many superlatives that his game warranted, but the Frenchman was just that poor. Djokovic just had to ensure that the rally went on for more than 5/6 strokes, and Monfils would self-destruct.
At one point, it got so bad that the crowd (who had been relentlessly rallying Monfils on all night) started to ‘boo’ the Frenchman. For so long as you and I have been watching the game, it takes a new level of miserable performance to get booed in a Grand Slam semi-final. Djokovic wrapped up the second set 6-2 and at this point, all looked lost. He had no hope, no confidence and frankly, the sport he was playing couldn’t be termed tennis.
Along came the third set, and Monfils was again broken early. Call it psychological or the fact that Djokovic was simply few levels above him, Monfils couldn’t put a foot right on the court, and it had become a sorry showing by the end of the second set. Then abracadabra and boom, out of nowhere, the Frenchman blew Djokovic apart to race to a 5-2 lead. No one saw his coming, not even Nostradamus could’ve predicted this but here we were, on the cusp of a 4th set which looked as likely as unicorns dancing atop a UFO not too long ago. Monfils held on to take the third set 6-3, and we were onto a fourth. Quite simply put, it was starting to get bizarre now.
The 4th set went on serve for the first 4 games but there was always the feeling that Djokovic was just a break away from finishing this match. Monfils just simply didn’t seem to have the legs to go the distance. He was cramping up, leaning over the net and just didn’t seem to have enough fuel left in his tank. Make no mistake, though, Novak was nowhere near his level as well, and he looked as rusty as someone who has reached the final courtesy of 3 walkovers should.
The Serb double-faulted at the break point and handed the break right back to Monfils to prolong this absolutely peculiar and unexplainable match. Monfils returned the favour with all the love and it landed at 4-2 to the Serb, and the end was near for Monfils. Novak held on and then broke Monfils to wrap up the game, the set, and the match.
Regardless of who Djokovic goes on to face in the finals, Kei or Stan will have been watching this with a big smile on their faces. This is the most tarnished Djokovic has ever looked on the big stage in recent years. It’s uncharacteristic of how he played this match lacking the usual composure and confidence that his strokes exude. It was a lethargic, tired, and lacklustre performance by the Serbian, but he’s through to his 6th US Open final, and he will be hoping to etch closer to Roger Federer’s Grand Slam tally on Sunday.