Awful, awful human being.
What was the point of divergence between the two? After the French, Monfils dealt with some nagging injuries which forced him to miss much of the summer U.S. hardcourt season. But he came into the U.S. Open healthy and ready to make a splash in America. That first round U.S. Open match against Djokovic was expected to be tough, as matches against friends, especially when the players grew up together in the junior ranks always are. But Gael was slotted to win and move on.
But the fifth and final set between the two, which ended 7-5 for Djokovic, told a sad tale of the nature of the game today.
Djokovic began that final set by taking a “bathroom” break which most often in tennis circles means a player is losing and is hoping to break the momentum of his or her opponent. And on his way to finally winning, Djokovic would ask for the trainer or stall and reduce the match to a drawn out crawl a grand total of a dozen times. Six times he asked for the trainer. Six times on the court Djokovic limped around the court with “cramps” or some other alleged ailment.
Because of their friendship, Monfils was more than gracious toward his friend, allowing him to take more than the allotted time to gather himself so that Djokovic might have the opportunity to finish the match honorably in what ever fashion he chose.
But while Monfils acted the gentlemen, even the casual observer could see that Djokovic was taking advantage of the largesse his friend afforded him. Whenever the Serbian won points, he seemed miraculously energized. When he lost a point, he acted as if he was about to enter into the dangerous physical realm of a full body cramp. After his serve was broken in the fifth, which was repeatedly, he would call for the trainer on change-overs. Dutifully the employee of the men’s tour would trot out and massage Djokovic’s legs, or shoulder, or back, or all three. After some massages the Serb would stand, take a step, stop, and slump back into his chair, apparently needing yet another round of rubbing.
As the final set wore on, the pauses became more pronounced, the massages longer, the stalling between points more often. The New York crowd sensed Djokovic was faking and began to jeer him. The average opponent would have complained to the chair umpire after the third or fourth play stoppage, after Djokovic held his hand in the air to stop Monfils from serving just before the Frenchman was about to toss the ball into the air.
At one point the crowd broke out into full booing after Djokovic won a drawn out point in which each player executed at least a dozen groundstrokes apiece and then, when he lost the following point, the stalling for time began anew. But Monfils implored the spectators to refrain from booing his brother in arms - and only at his behest did they stop.
When the final point was played, Djokovic acted as if he had just won the Grand slam event instead of winning a first round match. Monfils was understandably disappointed. His promising spring had turned into a lost summer of discontent and failure.
Yet in his post-match interview Monfils was gracious. He gave credit to his friend for making it through the match and fully took the blame for failing to maintain his concentration during the fifth set. He said he hoped Djokovic went far in the tournament and said he would be rooting for him.
When Djokovic was interviewed in his press conference he admitted with a sheepish grin that he cheated his friend and opponent; that he stalled without being injured in any way; that he called for the trainer when he had no need for the trainer; the he felt he needed to do anything possible to break the momentum of his friend because he felt it was more important to do anything possible, including cheat, to win and advance. When asked what he would stoop to such tactics against someone who rated him the closest of friends, Djokovic went from relieved but beaming winner to thoroughly embarrassed and busted cheat. His sudden change in demeanor was accompanied by a change in speech. He became brusque, angry with the press corps for challenging him and tearing him down after he freely admitted he cheated.
Djokovic ended the press conference as quickly as possible and scampered off the stage, looking not very injured at all.
When Gael Monfils was informed of his opponent’s tactics in a later one-on-one interview, the young man looked crestfallen. He intimated that in no way would he ever thought his “best friend” as he called Djokovic, would cheat him, would lower himself to do anything other than play a match with honor. At one point Monfils bowed his head, fighting back tears with the sudden understanding that in the world of tennis a player might well, in reality, have no friends in tennis at all.
That match marked the point where Novak Djokovic began his quick climb to #3 in the world. It also sped the fall of Gael Monfils to his present rank of #59. Today as Monfils plays commentators talk about that match, but no one seems to remember the manner in which Djokovic won. It is called a hard-fought match, a long match, and a match that everyone expected Monfils to win. They talk as if Monfils cannot win a five-set match and that on against Djokovic signaled his inability to gut out a victory. Monfils’ conditioning is questioned, his heart is questioned, his commitment to the game of tennis is questioned.
The commentators also fail to mention that many other players have complained about Djokovic’s gamesmanship, his cheating through extra-long breaks when losing, his penchant for bouncing the ball up to 24 times, then failing to pause to let his opponent know he is about to serve. Roger Federer, who never complains about opponents has levies the cheating charge at Djokovic. Both he and Rafael Nadal have commented about Djokovic and complained that his parents and their friends shout at his opponents during points to break their concentration just before they hit a shot when playing their son.
Many lesser players have done the same.
But Gael Monfils has defeated Jurgen Melzer, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2. In the final two sets Monfils makes only seven unforced errors, an incredibly clean way to play the final two sets of a long clay court match.
And despite the description of Monfils by the commentators, the young French player has a stellar 5-1 record in five set matches.
Hopefully fate and fairness will have a way of catching up to Novak Djokovic.
That last line is going in my sig