Novak Djokovic overcomes Gael Monfils' unorthodox strategy

— -- NEW YORK -- Novak Djokovic seemed on his way to a shattering 6-0 first set over Gael Monfils when the funky Frenchman appeared to stop playing seriously.

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.

Asked if he was surprised by McEnroe's comments, Monfils replied that it was "very sad to learn that such a legend criticize[d] me."

"At the end what I can say to John is, you know, John, I want to be the best. It's tough, you know. And I try my best," Monfils said in his postmatch news conference.

The No. 10-seeded Frenchman added that he is "more than happy to talk" with McEnroe, and apologized if he came across as unprofessional.?

"I guess I'm working, I'm learning ... I think I'm failing, for sure, a lot, but I try to stand up," Monfils said. "You know, it's tough, because when he calls me unprofessional, he calls my coach unprofessional, calls my physio unprofessional, calls my physic -- all my team, actually, unprofessional. [It's] a bit tough."

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.

Monfils said afterward that it was a "great strategy" on his part, but acknowledged, "You just don't want to see it. If no one is doing that, you know, everybody is like, 'Play tennis like this. You have to do like this.'?It's OK, you know. We can change a little bit. We can, you know -- it's not only one way to play tennis."

Added Monfils: "As I always say, the change [takes] guts ... I think I'm gutsy to try that against the world No. 1 of the world. [Down] 5-0, OK, I show you that I play [in a] none academic way.

"And then I won't win a match like that, but I can win maybe 15 minutes, maybe two more games, one more game. I can push him a little bit to defend ... and put him out [of] his balance.?You know, it was a great strategy, I think."

Even after going four draining sets, Djokovic will have a significant advantage over his opponent in the final, either No. 3 Stan Wawrinka or No. 6 Kei Nishikori, who met in the second semifinal.

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.

Djokovic benefited from three injured opponents -- Jiri Vesely (withdrew), Mikhail Youzhny (retired) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (retired).

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."