Gael Monfils defended his unconventional U.S. Open semifinal strategy on Friday, telling reporters in a post–match press conference that he merely wanted to throw Novak Djokovic off his game.
Djokovic ended up beating Monfils in four sets, overcoming injury and some unusual tactics from Monfils along the way. After going down 0–5 in the opening set, Monfils completely altered his strategy, emphasizing his slice and avoiding shot–for–shot rallies with Djokovic.
Monfils won three straight games and had double–break point at 3–5, but Djokovic held to take the first set. But the change in strategy undoubtedly rattled Djokovic, who conceded the third set before closing Monfils out in the fourth.
During the match, ESPN commentator and former World No. 1 John McEnroe sharply criticized Monfils, calling him "unprofessional" and saying he couldn't support the way Monfils handled himself during the match. Other ESPN analysts also criticized Monfils's style of play during the broadcast.
After the match, Monfils was asked about McEnroe's comments.
"I'm very sad to learn that such a legend criticize me, because at the end what I can say to John is, 'John, I want to be the best,'" Monfils said. "It's tough, you know. And I try my best.
"I'm sorry if you think I'm unprofessional, but I guess I'm working, I'm learning."
Monfils, who hadn't dropped a set entering Friday's semifinal, said he played unconventionally because he wasn't playing well and because of Djokovic's quality. He called it a "great strategy" that caught Djokovic off–guard.
"It's not academic, but I try to win. I'm sorry, every time, to hear that I get destroyed. For what? At the end, for what? To tell me I'm so talented I waste my time," Monfils said. "Sorry, I'm not wasting my time. I think I know how to try to play the best, and to play the best sometime is to improve. And when the guy is too good, you change. Not academic, but I try to be better."
Djokovic acknowledged that Monfils's unusual tactics flustered him.
"I was completely caught off guard when he just stood there and chipped the ball back and didn't do much. If I would get to the net he would go for the passing shot and hit some impossible gets and balls," Djokovic said. "But that's Gael."
Monfils said he knew his strategy to close the first set wouldn't be enough to win the match, but he wanted to disrupt Djokovic's rhythm. By the third set, Monfils looked much more comfortable hitting conventional groundstrokes against Djokovic and didn't use his slice as much.
"F--- yes, I'm competing. Even I'm like at my best actually," Monfils said. "[Djokovic] is too good."