NEW YORK – Maybe Novak Djokovic is growing up.
Yes, he was muttering to himself and gesticulating wildly during his 7-6 (2), 6-1, 6-2 victory over 17th-seeded Gael Monfils of France in the U.S. Open quarterfinals Wednesday.
And, yes, Djokovic smacked himself in the head twice with his right hand — after winning a point.
But the 23-year-old Serbian managed to figure out how to deal with the swirling wind that topped 20 mph, choosing tactics wisely — he won the point on 40 of 59 trips to the net — and never allowing Monfils back into the match after a tight first set.
"It might be the case that (I've) developed," 2008 Australian Open champion Djokovic said. "Over time, you get experience playing in the different conditions, different situations."
He adjusted Wednesday, and he didn't let the wind bother him nearly as much as Monfils did. It was Monfils, after all, who tried to get too fancy in the match's fourth game.
As a ball headed toward him, Monfils jumped and brought his racket around his body and through his legs, when a regular swing would have sufficed. His attempt at a trick shot — a variation of one Roger Federer hit for a winner against Djokovic in the 2009 semifinals at Flushing Meadows — landed in the net.
"I thought, 'Please, don't make it," Djokovic said. "I have been experiencing that too many times."
Clearly, the guy some call "The Joker" is still in possession of his well-known sense of humor.
Monfils, meanwhile, was not amused one bit by how hard it was to handle the wind, which kept changing directions and carried shots this way and that.
"I was completely lost," Monfils said. "Can't serve. Can't really use my forehand. You run for what?"
The wind also clearly affected play in the first women's singles match Wednesday, when Wimbledon runner-up Vera Zvonareva was perfectly steady — in her mind and with her strokes — and beat 31st-seeded Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-3, 7-5 to reach her first U.S. Open semifinal.
A year ago in New York, during a fourth-round loss, Zvonareva wasted six match points and threw a tantrum right there on court. She bawled. She slammed her racket against her leg. She begged the chair umpire to get her a pair of scissors so she could cut tape off her knees.
And Wednesday? The No. 7-seeded Zvonareva was calm and composed, letting Kanepi make mistake after mistake, 60 unforced errors in all. Zvonareva finished with only 28.
Kanepi, like Monfils, found fault with the wind.
"Yeah, it was blowing in every way," Kanepi said after falling to 0-3 in major quarterfinals.
All of her stray shots allowed Zvonareva to take 84 points despite hitting only 10 winners. The first game of the match set the tone: Zvonareva needed five points to break Kanepi, and all five came courtesy of unforced errors.
"Well, I don't think she was just making errors for no reasons. I was making it difficult for her," said Zvonareva, who turned 26 on Tuesday. "She had to go more for her shots. I was trying to guess where she was playing and reading her game."
Neither afternoon match featured much drama — nor doubt about who would win. In sum, they felt akin to opening acts before Wednesday's featured performers took the stage under the lights.
Scheduled to take the court first at night was No. 1-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark against 45th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, the only unseeded quarterfinalist. The winner will play Zvonareva.
Federer and Soderling had played 13 times previously, and Federer won the first 12. But Soderling won their most recent meeting, in the quarterfinals at this year's French Open, ending Federer's streak of reaching at least the semifinals at 23 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.
The only man to beat Djokovic at the past three U.S. Opens was Fededer — in the 2007 final, and the 2008-09 semifinals.
But Djokovic appears to be a more mature player now. He was down an early break in the first set against Monfils, but kept attacking, and eventually broke back, then was solid in the tiebreaker.
And that, pretty much, was that.
After one lengthy point won by Djokovic, his father stood up to applaud, showing off the black T-shirt he's been wearing with Novak's likeness on the front.
The younger Djokovic was asked after his match about Dad's fashion statement
"I would never wear the shirt. Me, personally — never. My father? I understand. OK. He's proud. But me? Never," Djokovic said with a smile, adding: "I don't like myself that much."
With the way he's playing right now, what's not to like?