Novak Djokovic’s opponent in the US Open semifinals, Gael Monfils, might just want to hole up somewhere safe until it’s time to walk out on the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Don’t practice too strenuously.
Let someone else carry the racket bag.
Be extra careful crossing busy streets in Manhattan.
It’s been hazardous to one’s health to get drawn to face Djokovic during this tournament: The defending champion and No. 1 seed has enjoyed an unprecedentedly easy path to the final four at Flushing Meadows, needing to complete only two of five matches because of injuries to three foes.
“This Grand Slam is very unique for me,” acknowledged Djokovic, who is in the U.S. Open semifinals for the 10th consecutive year. “I never experienced something like this – to have three retirements on the road to the semifinals.”
No one has. According to the ATP, it’s the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, that a man only needed to win two match points to get this far at any of tennis’ four major tournaments.
“I can only wish all of my opponents a speedy recovery,” Djokovic said. “That’s all I can do on my end.”
True. It’s not his fault. Still, there certainly could be an advantage to only having to play a total of 84 games across a tad less than 6 hours so far.
Djokovic won a four-setter in the first round. But the player Djokovic was supposed to face in the second round, Jiri Vesely, pulled out of the U.S. Open a couple of hours before the match, citing a bad left arm. The man Djokovic met in the third round, Mikhail Youzhny, stopped after six games that took 31 minutes because of a strained left hamstring.
And after a three-set victory in the fourth round, Djokovic only needed to play two sets plus one point in the quarterfinals before Jo-Wilfried Tsonga called it a night because of a problem with his left knee.
Friday’s second semifinal will be between No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, a two-time major champion, and No. 6 Kei Nishikori, the 2014 runner-up in New York.
It shouldn’t be surprising that injuries would abound in the ninth month of a season that offers little chance for respite. The U.S. Open is the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, after all.
Even Djokovic has been dealing with health issues of his own. He developed a sore left wrist right before the start of the Rio Olympics in early August, losing in the first round there, then skipping the Cincinnati Masters.
Plus, something – he won’t say exactly what – has been going on with his right arm, which was massaged and manipulated by a trainer during the first and fourth rounds.
So the fluky way his U.S. Open has gone is a benefit, he figures.
Asked whether he had any concern about the lack of match competition over the past two weeks, Djokovic replied: “Not really.”
“Actually, in this stage of the season, considering some physical issues I have had in the last month, month and a half, this was the scenario that I needed and I wished for,” he said.
“I got a lot of days off and recovered my body. Right now I’m feeling very close to the peak. That’s the position where I want to be.”
That also sounds like bad news for the 10th-seeded Monfils, who has lost all 12 career matchups against Djokovic.
The Frenchman, who turned 30 last week, will be playing in the second Grand Slam semifinal of his career; the other was a loss at the 2008 French Open.
Djokovic, meanwhile, is seeking his 13th major championship, which would break a tie with Roy Emerson for fourth-most in tennis history among men, behind only Roger Federer with 17, and Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal with 14 apiece.
When Djokovic completed his career Grand Slam at the French Open in June, it also gave him four major trophies in a row, something last accomplished nearly 50 years ago. His streak was stopped by a third-round loss at Wimbledon.
“What he’s doing is amazing,” said Monfils, who has won all 15 sets he’s played at Flushing Meadows this year. “He’s better player than me, definitely. I think I have no shame to say it. He is better than me.”