By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gael Monfils to some is a quitter but to others the enigmatic Frenchman is a bold, unconventional thinker willing to try anything to get to his first grand slam final.
Either way there is no getting around the fact that Monfils is a showman, a polarising figure who can trigger applause one moment and anger the next, as he did on Friday in a confounding 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-2 loss to Novak Djokovic that sent the world number one through to his seventh U.S. Open final.
Djokovic at one stage ripped off his shirt in frustration at Monfils, while praising the Frenchman the next.
"He's one of the most charismatic guys on the Tour," explained Djokovic, who once said Monfils was the only player he would pay to watch. "At the end of the day, he enjoys playing on the big stage. Enjoys playing tennis.
"Sometimes, as his opponent it's not easy to handle his up and downs but he's very important asset to our sport."
Blessed with a creative soul, Monfils is the tortured artist of tennis.
The court is his canvas, his work often as abstract as a Picasso painting and equally difficult to find meaning in, as on Friday as tried to find a way to outsmart Djokovic, who had beaten him in all 12 previous meetings.
"I think everything I do in my life I try to have fun and I try to be creative on the tennis court, outside the tennis court," explained Monfils. "I create music; I create painting; I create whatever I want to create.
"I create clothes. I create, I don't know, dance move. I create anything."
The Frenchman can also create controversy.
Quickly down 5-0 in the first set, Monfils decided it was time for a drastic change of plans.
What some saw as tanking, Monfils described as tactics, a well thought out Plan B employed when it became clear a more traditional Plan A approach was not working.
Monfils tested the patience of both Djokovic and the fans with a display of tennis that swung wildly from dynamic to indifferent as he tried to "get inside" the Serb's head.
On some points Monfils looked like he was barely trying, only to come up with a brilliant winner the next.
"I think the crowd disliked his efforts," said Djokovic. "I thought at times that he was maybe behaving a little bit in some judgment unacceptable but, again, I guess that was part of his tactics.
"It seemed like it was a bit of a lack of effort, but then he started playing great.
"He took chances."
Certainly the 30-year-old Parisian's approach grates on tennis traditionalists including grand slam winner and commentator John McEnroe, who labelled Monfils' performance as unprofessional.
But Monfils was quick to defend his tactics and his philosophy.
"When the guy is too good, playing clean and you're playing not that good you need to change," explained Monfils with clear logic. "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.
"The change takes guts."
(Editing by Andrew Both)