Novak Djokovic solves Monfils puzzle to reach US Open final

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NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - World number one Novak Djokovic scrapped his way into the U.S. Open final for a seventh time on Friday with a confounding 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-2 win over enigmatic Frenchman Gael Monfils.

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Often viewed as more showman than competitor, the 10th-seeded Monfils tested the patience of both Djokovic and the fans with a display of tennis that swung wildly from dynamic to indifferent.

In what was one of the more bizarre encounters to unfold on a grand slam court, Monfils was showered with boos one set and cheers the next before exiting Arthur Stadium to a mixture of both.

"He's very entertaining to watch," said Djokovic, who will play either Swiss third seed Stan Wawrinka or sixth-seeded Japanese Kei Nishikori in Sunday's final. "He's a very charismatic guy and he had a great tournament.

"It was a strange match, as it always is when you play Gael, who is a very unpredictable player. He loves to come up with a variety in his game."

Djokovic has described Monfils as the only player he would buy a ticket to watch and the Frenchman delivered an entertaining if unconventional display that drew both anger and applause.

What some viewed as 'tanking', Monfils described as tactics, a well-thought-out 'Plan B' employed when it became clear a more traditional 'Plan A' approach to the match was not going to get him past the Serb.

Djokovic had come out on top in all 12 of their previous meetings.

"Definitely I try to get in his head, try to create something new for him," explained Monfils. "And that was it. When the guy is too good, playing clean and you're playing not that good, you need to change.

"You just don't want to see it. We can change a little bit. It's not only one way to play tennis. I know it is not natural because first question is you're not competing. I'm competing.

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FILE - In this Monday, July 8, 2013 file photo, Novak Djokovic, and Jelena Ristic arrive at a Gala dinner at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, for the inaugural London fundraiser in aid of the Novak Djokovic Foundation. Novak Djokovic has tied the knot. The Wimbledon champion married his longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic on Thursday, July 10 in an upscale resort on the Adriatic coast in Montenegro. Local media say the couple held a private ceremony, attended by family, friends and guests, but away from public eye. Authorities in Montenegro have sealed off Milocer and Sveti Stefan resorts to grant privacy. Djokovic and Ristic first met in high school. They have been a couple for more than eight years and are expecting their first child. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, file)
Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic arrive for a gala dinner in London, Monday, July 8, 2013, for the inaugural London fundraiser in aid of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, that raises funds for vulnerable and disadvantaged children. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2013 file photo Serbia's tennis player Novak Djokovic, left, and his girlfriend Jelena Ristic arrive for a visit to a school for mentally challenged children in Belgrade, Serbia. Djokovic said during a TV show Monday Feb. 3, 2014, that he will soon marry his fiance and long-time girlfriend Jelena Ristic. On Monday, the world No. 2-ranked tennis player and six-time major champion told Ristic during a Serbian television talk show: “Jelena, enjoy it while you can. In a couple of months you will be changing your last name to Djokovic.” and Jelena was shown smiling. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, FILE)
Serbia's tennis player Novak Djokovic and his girlfriend Jelena Ristic arrive for a visit to a school for mentally challenged children in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Djokovic visited the school where the player’s charity fund donated euro 50,000 to be used for building a special playground. After winning the Australian Open last month, Djokovic says he is enjoying the off-season time with his family and friends in Serbia and will aim for the Roland Garros title this year _ the one Grand Slam tournament the World No-1 has not won so far. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Professional tennis player Novak Djokovic, right, and girlfriend Jelena Ristic arrive for the screening of Killing Them Softly at the 65th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, May 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
FILE - In this Sunday July 6, 2014 file photo, Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the trophy after defeating Roger Federer of Switzerland in the men's singles final at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London. Novak Djokovic has tied the knot. The Wimbledon champion married his longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic on Thursday, July 10 in an upscale resort on the Adriatic coast in Montenegro. Local media say the couple held a private ceremony, attended by family, friends and guests, but away from public eye. Authorities in Montenegro have sealed off Milocer and Sveti Stefan resorts to grant privacy. Djokovic and Ristic first met in high school. They have been a couple for more than eight years and are expecting their first child. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, file)
File - In this Feb. 6, 2012, file photo, tennis player Novak Djokovic, right, arrives with his girlfriend Jelena Ristic for the Laureus World Sports Awards in London. No. 1-ranked Djokovic and six-time major champion is engaged to long-time girlfriend Ristic, according to his Twitter account. On Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, Djokovic tweeted a photo of Ristic kissing him on the cheek and wrote: "Meet my fiance and future wife." (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic arrive for the UK premiere of 'Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1' at a central London venue, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Jonathan Short)
Serb tennis champion Novak Djokovic and his friend Jelena Ristic attend the match between U.S. player John Isner and French player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga , in the quarterfinal of the Davis Cup between France and U.S. in Monaco Sunday April 8, 2012. The U.S. team qualified for the semi-final.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
Tennis player Novak Djokovic, right, kisses his girlfriend Jelena Ristic on the red carpet for the screening of The Beaver at the 64th international film festival, in Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, May 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: (EXCLUSIVE ACCESS, SPECIAL RATES APPLY) Executive Director of the Novak Djokovic Foundation Jelena Ristic and Founding Chairman of the Novak Djokovic Foundation Novak Djokovic attend The Novak Djokovic Foundation New York Dinner at Capitale on September 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Professional tennis player Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic attend the Novak Djokovic Foundation New York dinner at Capitale on September 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Novak Djokovic Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10: Professional tennis player Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic attend the 2013 Novak Djokovic Dinner at Capitale on September 10, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/WireImage)
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (L) and his girlfriend Jelena Ristic pose for a photo at the United Nations headquarters in New York, August 23, 2013. Djokovic attented a meeting to draft a resolution for 'Sport for peace development'. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
MONACO - JULY 27: Novak Djokovic and Jelena Ristic attend the 'Love Ball' hosted by Natalia Vodianova in aid of the Naked Heart Foundation at Opera Garnier on July 27, 2013 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Didier Baverel/WireImage)
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"The change takes guts. It was a great strategy, I think."

Having advanced to the semi-final without dropping a set, Monfils did not wait long to surrender his first as he went 5-0 down in just 16 minutes.

INCREASING IRRITATION

Looking ready to throw in the towel, Monfils flapped at a few shots then sprinkled in a few brilliant returns to leave an increasingly irritated Djokovic off-balance and the crowd scratching their heads.

The Serb, however, would quickly get back into rhythm, clinching the first set and then going on to demolish Mofils in second.

But when trailing 2-0 and a break down in the third set, the impressive Monfils suddenly reappeared and he went on to take the set as Djokovic ripped his shirt and stalked the court.

Monfils' tactics, while bold, ultimately proved unsuccessful as Djokovic's skill and familiarity with the Frenchman's playing style won out.

"I had phases when I was entertained by what he's doing and phases where I was upset with myself for allowing him to do whatever he does to disturb my game and my rhythm," said Djokovic. "He's one of the most charismatic guys on the Tour.

"You know, sometimes, as his opponent it's not easy to handle his up and downs but he's a very important asset to our sport. He brings that joy." (Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

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