Djokovic solves Monfils puzzle to reach US Open final

Kerber is the first woman from Germany to win the U.S. Open - and the first to get to No. 1 - since her idol and mentor, Steffi Graf, who got in touch via text message before the final.

In a odd match that didn't reach the heights expected of a grand slam semi, the world No. 1 eventually did enough to best the Frenchman in four sets 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-2 and book his place in the final where he'll play either Stanislas Wawrinka or Kei Nishikori. When I was a kid, I was always dreaming to one day be the No. 1 player in the world, to win Grand Slams, " said Kerber, a 28-year-old German who will move up one spot from No. 2 and replace Serena Williams atop the WTA rankings on Monday.

Never more so than on this muggy afternoon, with the temperature at 90 degrees and the humidity above 50 percent. However, after a couple of timely withdrawals/retirements, Djokovic was allowed to get some much-needed rest, recuperate and just like that breeze into the business end of the tournament. Monfils was serving to stay in the set and the world number one found himself with a set point for a bagel. "First question is, like, 'You're not competing?' ..." Monfils was booed by the crowd as he hit two lazy errors in a row to give Djokovic a 0-30 lead on his own service game.

"I'm really excited", Wawrinka said in his on-court interview.

Monfils started poorly, with two consecutive double faults gifting away the break, and got worse as Djokovic strolled into a 5-0 lead.

Djokovic's progress was marred, however, by suggestions Monfils had not given his best, particularly in the first set when the Frenchman trailed 5-0. During points, Monfils would hit slices or make truly half-hearted, half-swinging strokes, then occasionally smack a 100 miles per hour forehand.

Meanwhile, Monfils, continuing to lean on his racket like a cane, tried a surprise serve-and-volley but netted the volley. I just have to change. I can push him a little bit to also defend myself. and put him out of his balance.

Somehow, the tactic was effective, for a short while, anyway.

"I was completely caught off-guard", Djokovic acknowledged.

"I thought at times that he was, you know, maybe behaving a little bit - for some terms and judgments, unacceptable - but, again, I guess that was part of his tactics", said Djokovic. "The only reason I'm saying borderline is because it's working".

Tennis Channel recaps the action at the U.S. Open, where Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka will meet in a major for the seventh time.

In addition, they had physical issues (Djokovic asked for treatment on his left shoulder while Gael looked spent and exhausted in the closing stages of the match) and it was one odd encounter all in all, but with expected victor in the end.

A more orthodox approach saw Monfils break back for 2-2 and again for 4-2 in a third set that saw Djokovic receive treatment on his left shoulder. All over but the shouting, right? Nope. In a blink, Monfils suddenly came to life, playing his athletic best. When he broke to get to 2-all, he raised his right fist and the fans roared, now backing him.

Hours before the match, Djokovic had clutched at his back during practice.

It was just one of many twists in turns in a truly freaky match, one Djokovic would eventually win, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, after 2 hours 32 minutes in a match that left many confused - and some enraged - by the time it had ended.

The better fitness, via extra time in the gym and longer, more intense practice sessions; an improved serve and a new willingness to attack during points, rather than mainly counter-punching, via instruction from coach Torben Beltz; a more positive attitude on court, via help from a mental coach. By the end, he was hitting second serves in the high 70s.

These would constitute new trouble spots for the Serb, who arrived in NY with concerns about his left wrist, then got treatment on his right elbow during his first- and fourth-round matches.

Asked what worries he might have about his health, Djokovic replied, "Thankfully, it's behind me". Thankfully, that's behind me so I don't have any concerns. In the third round, Mikhail Youzhny quit after six games across 31 minutes because of a strained left hamstring. A quick break back and a hold at love and Wawrinka was back in charge. More examples of playing possum? Djokovic's shirt was soaked with sweat and he certainly showed signs of distress.

He will seek his third major championship Sunday against the top-ranked Djokovic, who he defeated at Roland Garros in 2015. This was Monfils' best showing ever at the US Open, even if his performance in the semifinal didn't reflect well on him.

Early in what would become a tight test of a U.S. Open final, Angelique Kerber sprinted forward to somehow reach a drop shot and scoop a down-the-line victor that landed in a corner of the court.

  • Angelo Rivera