FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Novak Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the US Open semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
The highly anticipated battle of the Djoker vs. Slider Man was about as absorbing as a two-page, color-less comic book.
Wearing the distinctive dragon design on the back of his Sergio Tacchini shirt, Djokovic, aka The Djoker, turned Slider Man Monfils into his own personal punch line after coming back from a break down in the first set to dispense a thorough thrashing of the flamboyant Frenchman who showed no fight after the first set.
The third-seeded Serbian powered into his fourth straight US Open semifinal where he will face either five-time champion Roger Federer or No. 5 seed Robin Soderling for a spot in Sunday’s final.
Federer has served as a personal road block for Djokovic in ending the 2008 Australian Open champion’s Flushing Meadows runs in each of the past three years, including a victory in the 2007 final and his famous between-the-legs passing shot winner that haunted Djokovic in the 2009 semifinals.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, but the Serbian showman will enjoy more rest than any other semifinalist. The question is: can Djokovic show the necessary mental strength and tactical acumen necessary to finally clear the Swiss hurdle in New York? Or is Djokovic destined for another final four failure?
A positive sign for Djokovic is the composed demeanor he’s shown both on court and in his post-match press conferences. This appears to be a more focused and determined Djokovic, but both Federer and Nadal have a habit of causing that familiar haunted expression in the normally smiling Serbian.
If Djokovic is to master another major he must step up and beat Federer in the latter stages of a major. He believes time is on his side.
“I have two days (to rest) so I will try to use them as best as I can to recover physically and get ready mentally for this next challenge,” said Djokovic, who has been all business in this tournament.
Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets
Meanwhile, Monfils reinforced his reputation as an ultra-talented, but extremely flaky Frenchman, who is apparently unable or unwilling or unable to accept that bobbing and weaving just won’t get it down against top four players.
Squandering the break lead in the opening set, Monfils played tentative, frightened tennis for the final two sets. Ducking and running rather than engaging Djokovic in committed baseline exchanges.
How bad did it get for Monfils?
His coach, Roger Rasheed, essentially called out Monfils as a passionless pusher who looked resigned to suffering his fifth consecutive loss to Djokovic.
“I’ve been disappointed to be perfectly honest,” Rasheed told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after an absymal second-set effort from his charge. “You gotta have some authority on the game and the person that gets after it is gonna get the job done in these conditions.”