In terms of entertainment value, Frenchman Gael Monfils always has received high marks for his creativity and on-court acrobatics. Call him “Cirque du Monfils.”
But Monfils turned 30 Thursday, and as much as he loves to have fun, he’s working to be more consistent and to win more. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinal win over countryman Lucas Pouille on Tuesday at Arthur Ashe Stadium reflected that more businesslike approach and put him into his first U.S. Open semifinal.
Monfils took issue with the media emphasis on his showmanship skills. “If I do a trick shot and still kill it, you will say I’m a showman,” said Monfils, who admitted he enjoys practicing trick shots. “With all due respect to everyone, you guys put me on the spot.
“When you make the show, it’s to entertain, but it’s also to win. What’s the point to make the show and lose, actually?”
Monfils’ athleticism was a major factor in his dominant win over Pouille, who admittedly was fatigued after playing three straight five-set matches, including what he called “the best win of my career” over Rafael Nadal in the round of 16 on Sunday. Monfils won 85 percent of his first-serve points, broke Pouille’s serve four times, had only 15 unforced errors to 44 for his opponent and never faced a break point.
In the third set, Pouille came to the net frequently and hit well-placed shots that easily could have turned into winners, but Monfils got to nearly everything and often sent soft lobs over Pouille’s head, into the court but out of reach.
“He’s moving so well,” Pouille said. “When you come to the net, he always pushes you to the limit. He always put one more ball in the court. You have to make the perfect shot. Maybe I was a little bit tired. I gave him a lot of space to pass me. It was difficult.”
Monfils has won 16 straight since a loss to Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the Rio Olympics. This is only his second Grand Slam semifinal, with the other in 2008 at the French Open. Two years ago at Ashe, he lost a heartbreaking Open quarterfinal to Roger Federer in five sets after leading by two sets and holding two match points.
“It was one of the greatest matches I play,” Monfils said. “Even if you have match points, it happens in sport. I think I got it back today to be in the semis.”
The reward for Monfils will be a match Thursday against the winner of Tuesday night’s late quarterfinal between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and another Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Monfils said “it would be a dream” to face Tsonga because they grew up together, were Davis Cup teammates and Olympic roommates in Rio.
The more likely opponent is No. 1 Djokovic, who defeated Monfils in five sets in his U.S. Open debut in 2005.
“What Novak’s doing is amazing,” Monfils said. “He’s a better player than me, definitely. I have no shame to say it. You can be the best, but one match is enough [to lose].”