The U.S. Open’s most unusual match had a predictable winner: Novak Djokovic, who is back in another Open final.
Djokovic, the top seed, defeated Gaël Monfils 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 on Friday in a match of odd tactics, aching shoulders, ice towels, deep-tissue massages, a soda break and lots of sweating on a hot, humid New York afternoon.
The victory puts him in the seventh Open final of his career on Sunday, when he’ll face Stan Wawrinka, who beat Kei Nishikori in the second men’s semifinal 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2. Wawrinka, seeded third, will be playing his first U.S. Open final.
Djokovic has won the Open twice, including last year. He won the Australian Open and the French Open earlier this season, giving him 12 Grand Slam titles in his career. But Wawrinka is one of the few men with the power to overwhelm Djokovic from the baseline in a best-of-five-set match. He beat Djokovic in last year’s French Open final and in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Australian Open.
Djokovic’s match began as a blowout. He won the first five games before Monfils, frustrated and missing too often, did something one rarely sees in modern tennis: He started hitting junk. He chipped his backhand slow and high over the net, with no pace. He stood close to the service box to return serves, a move that caused Djokovic to double fault several times. He lured Djokovic to the net and then went for passing shots.
“I was completely caught off guard when he just stood there and chipped the ball back and didn’t do much,” Djokovic said.
The crowd was confused, but Monfils’s strategy worked and he came within a point of getting back on serve before Djokovic saved two break points and won the set.
“Definitely, I try to get in his head,” Monfils said.’
He dismissed the idea that he wasn’t trying his hardest.
“First question is like, ‘You’re not competing.’ F—, yes, I’m competing,” he said. “The guy is too good. I just have to change.”
Monfils, a 30-year-old with lots of talent and very few titles, quickly lost the second set but drove Djokovic mad in the third set. At 5-3, he escaped a 0-40 deficit. Annoyed at how the match had changed, Djokovic tore open his shirt just before Monfils served out the set.
But Monfils could hardly move in the fourth set. He drank a Coke to boost his energy and poured water over his head as he sat in his chair during changeovers. Djokovic, who had received massages on both his shoulders at different times in the match, didn’t look much better. In the end, though, he was steadier.
“You can’t just expect somebody to hand you the win,” Djokovic said. “Just very glad to overcome that.”
It has been an odd tournament for Djokovic. He arrived with a wrist injury and didn’t play well in the first round. His second-round opponent withdrew from their match, and two other opponents retired mid-match. He said the rest helped him, but nothing could fully prepare him for the muggiest day of the tournament.
But now that Djokovic has survived, he’ll have a chance to win his third Grand Slam title of the season on Sunday, just like last year.
“Everything that has happened in the tournament so far is behind me now,” he said. “My thoughts are only on Sunday’s match.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal