With Djokovic leading their US Open semifinal 5-0, an uninspired Monfils began hitting exceptionally casual returns, which clearly irked Djokovic, who saw four set points evaporate.
“I’ve seen strategy changes,” remarked ESPN analyst John McEnroe on the air. “But this tops everything. Even Sigmund Freud above couldn’t figure this out.
“This is bordering on unprofessional. The only reason I’m saying borderline is because it’s working.”
Indeed, in classic Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope fashion, Monfils turned would-be tanking into a tactic. He created a distraction, then rushed into the void left by Djokovic’s waning concentration. It happened again in the third set, when Monfils’ quirky behavior drove Djokovic to tear off his shirt after the final point.
Nevertheless, Monfils lost 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“This is one of the craziest matches I’ve ever seen,” McEnroe said.
Both players cramped significantly in the fourth set and called for visits from the ATP trainer amid the hot and humid conditions.
“At times in decisive, tense moments, we had many exchanges from the baseline,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “Gael is very entertaining to watch, a very charismatic guy. I do sincerely hope all you guys enjoyed our battle today.”
Djokovic stopped short of criticizing Monfils’ style of play. Monfils finished with 11 double-faults and 52 unforced errors.
After defeating Monfils, Djokovic has played only 13 sets and a total of 118 games. This puts him on a record pace for fewest sets and games in an Open-era major that featured a 128-man draw and only best-of-five-set matches.
And what prompted Djokovic to tear off his shirt?
“I keep asking myself the same question,” he said, laughing. “Sometimes you don’t have answer. Sometimes it just happens in the heat of the moment.”
And how did he bounce back from that?
“The way I bounce back from that is take another T-shirt from my bag,” he said. “I already feel better.”