NEW YORK — As Gael Monfils matches go, his US Open quarterfinal clash with French fellow countryman Lucas Pouille might have seemed a big old bore. It lacked the spectacular circus shots and athletic feats that have become Monfils’ trademark. It was missing the gut-wrenching drama he created in his 2014 French Open quarterfinal with Andy Murray, or the shot making fireworks of his five-set quarterfinal dogfight with Roger Federer in Arthur Ashe that same year.
Monfils’ performance Tuesday did get himself something those other storied battles did not: a place in a Grand Slam semifinals for the first time in eight years. Playing cold, no-nonsense tennis, Monfils bounced a flat Pouille in a hair over two hours, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Pouille, 10-10 in Grand Slam matches and just 22 years old, was bidding to become the first man in Open tennis history to win four consecutive five-set matches at a major. He showed why no one has been able to pull off the feat with a game that faded gradually, but inexorably, like the signal of a radio station on a long car ride.
But that doesn’t mean he’s reining in his explosive impulses and instincts, or that he’s making concessions to age.
“I think I’m very blessed genetically,” he said. “I guess the only thing that is a bit different is the recovery. I think it’s a bit tougher. But if [that’s] not [in play], I’m even stronger than before.”
A stronger, healthy, focused Monfils spells danger for every other player on the tour. Monfils is high on the short list of best active players who haven’t played a Grand Slam final, and on his recent form, it’s clear that he’s at or near the peak of his powers. His concentration hasn’t wavered, either. His serve is simply blazing. He won 85 of his first serve points against Pouille, who was able to get just 66 percent of Monfils serves back into play.
Monfils seems to have unearthed an important lesson in all this: “Now that I get to be more consistent with the winning, it’s tougher for some people to say that I’m just a showman.”
Welcome to the real world.