Djokovic, Monfils set to renew long, lopsided rivalry

Novak Djokovic (AFP)
Novak Djokovic (AFP)

New York - Novak Djokovic boasts a dozen wins in as many matches against Gael Monfils, but the world number one remains wary of the exuberant Frenchman heading into their US Open semi-final showdown on Friday.

"He seems more focused at this time of his career," Djokovic said. "Especially the hard court (season) this year, maybe he's playing the best tennis he ever played. He's very consistent. He hasn't dropped a set till semis.

"That says a lot about the level he's on."

Tenth-seeded Monfils booked his first Grand Slam semi-final since Roland Garros in 2008 with a crisp 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over weary compatriot Lucas Pouille.

Pouille, 22, was coming off three successive five-setters -- the last of them a stunning triumph over 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal.

There was little of the leaping and diving from Monfils that fans have come to love -- and which Djokovic himself said makes Monfils one of his favorite players to watch.

"He's one of the few players that I will definitely pay a ticket to watch," Djokovic said. "He's very charismatic. Plays with a smile. Enjoys tennis, enjoys life."

For all that admiration, Djokovic has dominated Monfils. Since the French player won a developmental Futures Tour clash with the Serb in 2004, Djokovic has won all 12 of their ATP level meetings.

That includes a five-set first-round victory at the 2005 US Open and a straight-sets quarter-final win at Flushing Meadows in 2010.

Monfils is enjoying one of the best campaigns of his career. He reached the final of the claycourt Monte Carlo Masters, and has been a model of consistency in the hardcourt buildup to the US Open with a title in Washington and a semi-final appearance in Toronto in July.

Commentators have made much of an apparent effort to cut back on the circus shots and gravity-defying leaps.

But Monfils says it's not his style that's changed but the perception.

"I'm winning more, you know, more matches," Monfils said. "So it's tougher for some people to say that I'm just a showman."

Nevertheless, he knows how difficult a task he faces against Djokovic.

"He's better player than me, definitely," Monfils said. "I think I have no shame to say it."

The Serb will be playing a 10th straight US Open semi-final, a run that includes his titles here last year and in 2011.

He arrived in New York nursing a wrist injury, but has had plenty of time to rest after an astonishing three of his five scheduled opponents have been incapacitated by injury leaving him with one walkover and two shortened matches.

Monfils said a lack of match play won't make Djokovic any less dangerous.

"For him it's different," Monfils said. "He's super-confident for years. I think he doesn't need many matches to feel his best tennis."

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