Djokovic into US Open Final
Originally published on 10/09/16 00:00
The story of the match was the extraordinary strategy employed by the Frenchman, which raised a comparison with Mohammad Ali’s tactics in one of the most famous fights in boxing history.
When Ali beat George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle” he did so after using “rope-a-dope” tactics, allowing Foreman to batter him on the ropes before responding with some big attacking blows of his own that eventually brought him victory over an exhausted opponent.
After losing the first five games in just 16 minutes Monfils changed to what he later called “Plan B”. He repeatedly hit slow balls into the middle of the court, pulling Djokovic into the net, before beating him with passing shots.
The tactic enabled Monfils to reduce the arrears to 5-3 before Djokovic closed out the set. The world No.1, having recovered the surprise of Monfils’ change of tactics, took the second set with something to spare and by the start of the third the crowd on Arthur Ashe stadium were starting to boo the Frenchman for what they apparently perceived as a lack of effort. John McEnroe, commentating on television, echoed those sentiments, describing Monfils as ”unprofessional”.
Djokovic, however, was starting to wilt in the intense heat and humidity and was also having problems with his shoulders, twice sending for the trainer. However, the world No.1 broke in the opening game of the third set and then held for 2-0, only for Monfils to begin his fightback.
Perhaps sensing Djokovic’s malaise, Monfils went on the attack and started to trouble the Serb with some big serves and huge groundstrokes. He broke serve to level at 2-2 upon which he punched the air in celebration.
Holding his serve in the following game with a 138mph ace, Monfils went on to break again to lead 4-2.
Djokovic held for 3-5 and when Monfils served for the set the Frenchman went 0-40 down. Djokovic however was unable to convert any of the three breakpoints and ripped his shirt in frustration, after which Monfils served out for the set.
In the fourth set it was Monfils’ turn to struggle in the gruelling conditions. The Frenchman regularly leaned over his racket between points, apparently struggling to summon up the energy to carry on.
The on court temperature had climbed above 90 Fahrenheit and with the humidity also growing conditions were difficult for both men.
Djokovic broke to lead 3-1 only to double fault on breakpoint in the following game, upon which the World No.1 took a medical timeout for treatment to his right shoulder.
Monfils also took the opportunity to leave the court for a comfort break, but when play resumed Djokovic closed out victory. A netted volley by Monfils saw Djokovic break to lead 4-2 and when the Frenchman served to stay in the match at 2-5 he was broken to love, putting a forehand in the net on Djokovic’s first matchpoint.
Djokovic said of his opponent: “At the end of the day, he enjoys playing in the big stage. Enjoys playing tennis. And you can see that. That's why the fans love him. That's why he gets the crowd involved. You know, sometimes, as his opponent it's not easy to handle his up and downs, but you know, he's very important asset to our sport.
He went on to say “Sometimes you don't understand the game, but that's who he (Monfils) is. I think he actually played best tennis of his life on hard courts this season and the results are showing that. So it was a good win for me today.”
Monfils felt that his tactics were appropriate, “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.”
In this strangest of matches there were 12 breaks of serve (eight for Djokovic) and a combined total of 18 double faults (11 for Monfils).
Novak Djokovic advances to his 21st major final where he will meet Stan Wawrinka who defeated Kei Nishikori in the second of the men’s semi-finals.