Novak Djokovic advanced to his seventh US Open final beating an unpredictable Gael Monfils 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in the semifinals at the US Open Friday.
In the heat and humidity of the day with temperatures soaring into the 90s for the 3pm start, Djokovic raced out to a 5-0 lead in just 21 minutes over the misfiring Monfils.
With Djokovic on the edge of securing the first set, Monfils decided to mix things up, crowding the Djokovic serve by moving into the court for returns and chipping balls back off-pace.
The crowd whistled, commentators criticized Monfils for lack of effort, but the 30-year-old would say later it was his only chance at victory. And for a while it actually worked.
Monfils took three straight games and Djokovic was against it again serving 5-3, 15-40. But the World No. 1 got out of it to take the first set.
Monfils went back to a more traditional approach in the second but the errors of his racquet continued and Djokovic hardened.
In the third, the crowd continued to rain down boos on Monfils who couldn’t find anything that could consistently hurt the Serb. Down 2-0 the match was over, but Monfils came back in stunning fashion winning five straight games and eventually the set, prompting Djokovic to rip his shirt.
With the crowd finally in it, Djokovic regrouped to take the match in four. But in the heavy conditions the match took a toll on both players, especially Djokovic who called for a medical time out on his right shoulder after receiving treatment earlier on his left shoulder.
“It was a strange match, as it always is, I guess, when you play Gaël, who is very unpredictable player. I could expect that in a way. I was 5-Love up in less than 20 minutes, and everything felt great; couple of close games there,” Djokvoic said.
“And then just that service game on 5-1, that’s when it started. I was completely caught off guard when he just stood there and chipped the ball back and didn’t do much. 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. That’s the way he plays now. That’s the way he played always. He loves to come up with a variety in his game, and the defense shots. He loves long rallies.”
Monfils, who had never beaten Djokovic in 12 prior meetings, felt he had no choice but to mix things up to win.
“At the beginning I think Novak was playing good,” Monfils said. “I didn’t serve great. It was very quickly 5-0. I had to change a little bit.
“Definitely I try to get in his head. You know, try to create something new for him, you know, to see. And that was it. When the guy is too good, you know, playing clean and you’re playing very bad, I mean, not that good, you know, you need to change.
“At the end, that’s why I think it was necessary, and I almost get back to the first set.”
The error-filled match featured a combined 18 double faults (11 from Monfils), 12 breaks of serve and Monfils hit 52 unforced errors.
After two retirement wins, a walkover and now this bizarre semifinal, in the final Sunday Djokovic will face Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss overcame a set down to deny Kei Nishikori in four sets 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.
“I knew I could always come back,” Wawrinka said on court. “My game plan is to be aggressive. I knew I could fight for three, four, five hours. I want to make them suffer and that’s what I did against Del Potro and today as well.”
Wawrinka avenged his loss to Nishikori in Canada and the win puts him into his first US Open final after two previous semis.
“I’m really excited. Really happy to make the final. Something amazing for me,” Wawrinka said. “To play Novak, the No. 1 player, it’s always really challenging. But we had some many big memories together, especially in Grand Slams, so it’s going to be an excited match.”
Wawrinka beat Djokovic in the French Open final last year in their last Slam showdown but Novak leads 19-4 overall winning both Masters meetings last year.
“I haven’t played Stan in some time now,” Djokovic said of Wawrinka. “He’s a big match player. He loves to play in the big stage against big players, because that’s when he, I think, elevates his level of performance in his game. Just gets much better.”
Wawrinka has won his last 10 finals and at 31 will try to become the oldest US Open champion since Ken Rosewall in 1970. Both his Slam titles have taken him through Djokovic.
“The secret is simple: I have to play my best tennis, my best game,” Wawrinka said. “He’s the No. 1 player, amazing fighter, amazing player, but I have enough confidence in myself that when I play my best level I can beat him.
“Hopefully I can bring that Sunday. But it’s the biggest challenge. When you play Novak, the No. 1 player in the final of Grand Slam, it’s the biggest challenge you can have.”
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