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Novak Djokovic vs. Gael Monfils: Score and Reaction from 2016 US Open

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2016

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, returns a shot to Gael Monfils, of France, during the semifinals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Julio Cortez/Associated Press

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic punched his ticket to the U.S. Open final Friday with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over 10th-seeded Gael Monfils in perhaps the wildest match of the tournament.

Djoker defeated the Frenchman, who appeared disinterested, bewildered and lacking in terms of effort for the first two sets before mounting a comeback and making a match of it.

With the win, Nole reached his seventh career U.S. Open final and sixth in the past seven years. It also marks his third Grand Slam final appearance of 2016.

According to ATP Media Info, seven U.S. Open finals puts Djokovic in some elite company:

[1] @DjokerNole in 7th #USOpen F, 1 shy of Open Era record, and 21st Grand Slam F, passing @RafaelNadal for 2nd all-time (@RogerFederer 27).

— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) September 9, 2016

Djokovic entered the match fresh after two of his opponents retired and one was a walkover. That manifested itself into a quick start, as he needed just 16 minutes to take a 5-0 lead over Monfils in the first set.

While the 12-time Grand Slam champion was in great form, Monfils was hardly putting up a fight, as evidenced by this photo courtesy of We Are Tennis:

Pat Cash @TheRealPatCash

Well done #Djokovic on battling through to win a tough match under tough conditions against a tough opponent. #USOpen

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His bizarre approach seemingly started to get inside Djokovic's head, though, as the Serb struggled to serve out the set, and Monfils managed to cut the 5-0 deficit to 5-3.

The two-time U.S. Open champion dug deep and took the set 6-3, however, which broke an impressive run by Monfils, per ATP Media Info:

We Are Tennis @WeAreTennis

This is how #Monfils returns #Djokovic's serve in this end of 1st set #USOpen https://t.co/uGTufBZFGd

After regaining some momentum near the end of the opening set, Monfils continued to employ the same tactics in the second.

That prompted Carole Bouchard of SI.com to bring up the possibility of a physical issue with the 30-year-old underdog:

ATP Media Info @ATPMediaInfo

After jumping out to 5-0 lead, @DjokerNole holds on to win opening set 6-3 vs @Gael_Monfils @USOpen. Monfils loses 1st set since Rio QF.

Much like the first set, the second set started to get away from Monfils quickly, as he fell behind 5-1 after holding serve to start.

With Monfils' style of play quickly pushing him toward the brink of elimination, ESPN's LZ Granderson didn't believe coach Mikael Tillstrom looked particularly thrilled with his effort:

Carole Bouchard @carole_bouchard

Wondering if Gaël is injured or something. This is too weird.

Although Monfils' strange antics benefited Djokovic, it was clear on numerous occasions he was miffed by his opponent's behavior.

That led to Djoker attempting to fire up the crowd and get them firmly on his side, but Tumaini Carayol of Eurosport believed they were largely too shellshocked to react:

LZ Granderson @LZGranderson

Monfils' coach totally has a "wait until your father gets home" face. #USOpen

The crowd's mood quickly changed, though, when even Monfils implored the spectators to react negatively toward him, per Carayol:

Tumaini Carayol @tumcarayol

Obviously only a few sections of the crowd cheered when Djokovic tried to pump them up. Everyone else presumably thinking of wasted $$s.

Djoker won the second set 6-2, at which point Ed McGrogan of Tennis Magazine addressed the dumbfounding nature of Monfils' performance:

Tumaini Carayol @tumcarayol

In the last minute: Crowd boos Monfils, Monfils tells them to boo louder, Monfils hits a double fault, crowd boos Monfils.

With Monfils seemingly on another planet, all signs pointed toward Djokovic closing things out in straight sets and waiting to see if he would face Stan Wawrinka or Kei Nishikori in the final.

Monfils had other plans, though, as he held serve and then broke Djokovic to seize a 4-2 lead in the set after a 2-2 start.

After then going up 5-2, things got even more interesting, as Nole called for the trainer to check his shoulder, as seen in this photo from Live Tennis:

Ed McGrogan @EdMcGrogan

Irregardless of Monfils’ level of condition or effort, it’s just not a good look for tennis.

Monfils' effort level in the third set was unquestionably better than it was in the first two, and Douglas Robson of USA Today pointed toward his commitment to the serve and volley as a big reason for his comeback:

With Monfils serving for the set at 5-3, Djokovic had three break-point opportunities, but as seen in this video from US Open Tennis, he battled back and took the set to extend the match:

Douglas Robson @dougrobson

I'm digging the S&V from Monfils, and actually several other players this fortnight. Would like to see more.

After holding his own serve to start the fourth set, Djoker once again had Monfils down 0-40 on serve only for the Frenchman to reel off three straight points and then eventually complete the hold.

The wild, unpredictable, up-and-down nature of the match left Metro's Dave Gurney as one of many in a state of utter confusion:

US Open Tennis @usopen

Who saw this coming!? @Gael_Monfils extends the match to a 4th set! #usopen @chase https://t.co/kslabZ0hzC

Nole held again and then finally broke Monfils to go up 3-1 and put himself in position to win the fourth set and the match in emphatic fashion.

Fans have come to expect the unexpected out of Monfils, however, and that held true during Djokovic's next service game when Monfils earned the break back to cut the deficit to 3-2.

Following that game, Djokovic once again received treatment on his shoulder, while Monfils went back to the locker room and got some much-needed rest, as he was doubled over and gasping for air between most points in the fourth set.

Despite Djokovic clearly being nowhere near 100 percent, the break parade continued during the ensuing game with the world's top player breaking Monfils for the second consecutive time to take a 4-2 advantage.

Djoker was then finally able to take advantage of the break and consolidate by holding to go up 5-2 and come within one game of reaching the final. Monfils then ran out of magic on his next serve, as Djokovic broke again to win the match.

It was far from a vintage performance from Djokovic, but former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash came away impressed:

Well done #Djokovic on battling through to win a tough match under tough conditions against a tough opponent. #USOpen

— Pat Cash (@TheRealPatCash) September 9, 2016

While the score line suggests Saturday's semifinal was a fairly easy win for Djokovic—with the exception of the third set—he struggled and labored often after taking the first two sets.

In addition to Monfils' crazy play giving Nole issues, he appeared injured and tired at various points as well.

The fact that Djokovic spent so little time on the court in the matches leading up to the semifinals may have kept him fresh, but it can also be argued that it left him gassed in the fourth set since none of his previous opponents challenged him.

Djokovic is now just one win away from his 13th Grand Slam title, and his opponent will have played a lot of tennis in this tournament whether it's Wawrinka or Nishikori.

Even so, Djoker may very well be ripe for the picking, as Saturday's match suggested he is far from the dominant player he has been for much of the past two years.

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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