FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Mardy Fish reshaped his body and resculpted his game but couldn’t revise his past history with Novak Djokovic. Fish’s inspired run through this US Open Series came to a halt at the hands of Djokovic, who fried Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to his sixth straight major quarterfinal at the US Open.
Worn out from a long summer in which he won back-to-back championships in Newport and Atlanta, producing a career-best 11-match winning streak in the process, and went on to reach the Cincinnati final, a flat Fish lacked both the energy and execution to pose problems for Djokovic.
“I tried to, you know, get to the net, tried to stay more, you know, be a little more aggressive towards the middle part of the match,” Fish said. “I had some chances. I just didn’t execute, generally. He played great. He kicked my butt. He played great.”
It was a match that was never much in doubt as Djokovic, who took the court with a 5-0 lifetime record against Fish, asserted his authority at the outset.
The third-seeded Serbian swept American wild card James Blake, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3, and wisely took the pro-Fish American crowd completely out of the match in surging out to a 4-1 lead.
Djokovic’s superior speed around the court and his ability to extend Fish in baseline exchanges were key components to the win. The 2007 US Open runner-up remains one of the best hard-court returners in the game and picked Fish apart in longer rallies.
“I was making him play an extra shot and I was using the court very well,” Djokovic said. “This (win) gives me a lot of confidence, definitely. It’s great to raise the level of my performance toward the end of the tournament. It’s been a great couple of years for me in New York so hopefully I can go on.”
Seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the US Open semifinals, Djokovic is a decided favorite against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils.
In an all-French fourth round meeting, the 17th-seeded Monfils broke Richard Gasquet mentally in scoring an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to send the fragile fellow Frenchman packing and become the first French quarterfinalist since Arnaud Clement in 2000.
“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”
The Djokovic-Monfils match pits two of the fastest, most charismatic, flamboyant and sometimes flakiest players in men’s tennis. They are two men who play as if empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond their reach which should create a highly entertaining match.
“Gael is very charismatic and very athletic,” Djokovic said. “He slides a lot and so do I so I guess there’s going to he a lot of sliding between him and me.”
Djokovic is 4-0 lifetime vs. Monfils, including a controversial 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-5 triumph in the 2005 US Open first round in which some spectators believed Djokovic resorted to gamesmanship in pulling a lengthy injury time out to rest and recover.
Their most recent encounter saw Djokovic outduel Monfils and silence the Parisian crowd in an explosively entertaining, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(3), victory in the Paris Indoor final last November.
Master showman Monfils, who has entertained the New York City crowd with his electrifying shotmaking skills on the run, his expressiveness and even his impromptu post-match dance moves, is hoping he can work the crowd into a festive frenzy.
“I can get the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “I know him perfectly. We had like always a tough match. And then, damn I had revenge to take it because he won against me at home in Bercy (Paris). So this time I hope to win.”
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.