NEW YORK – If Novak Djokovic completes the first Grand Slam in a calendar year for a man since 1969 – and he’s heading to the US Open final, just one win away – he and everyone else is will remember a particularly crucial event. , and epic, game along the way.
It came at the end of the third set of what ultimately became a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows on Friday night. , making Djokovic 27-0 in the majors this season.
Beating number 2 Daniil Medvedev on Sunday will give Djokovic two important milestones. He would add the 2021 US Open trophy to those he won at the Australian Open in February, the French Open in June and Wimbledon in July. And the 34-year-old Serbian would win his 21st Slam title overall, breaking the mark of men’s career he now shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But Djokovic is not celebrating yet. He said at his post-game press conference that a famous quote from Kobe Bryant after the Los Angeles Lakers took a 2-0 lead in the 2009 NBA Finals helped keep things going. in perspective before Sunday’s final.
“This is his famous interview where he said, ‘Why should I be happy now? The job is not done,'” Djokovic said. “He’s someone, because probably millions of athletes and people around the world admire him, admire him. That’s the kind of attitude I have. The job is not done. The excitement is there. The motivation is there, no doubt. Probably more than ever. But I still have one to go. “
This key game against Zverev featured one extended rally after another including a 53-plus-one-minute point that was the longest in the tournament and was actually lost to Djokovic on a winning forehand from Zverev. , who leaned down with his hands on his lap as most of the 21,139 spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium stood up in unison on a chilly, chilly evening.
But that result alone didn’t matter. Never appears with Djokovic, especially in best-of-five-set matches on his sport’s most prestigious stages. As usual, he used his superb comeback defense and never rest to exhaust Zverev.
So, yes, Djokovic lost that point – which was preceded by others lasting 13, 19, 22 and 31 shots, and followed by another that went to 16 – but he won this match. , and it took place with. Just like he had lost the first set about 1 hour earlier, but turned things around thanks to a level drop from fourth seed Zverev. And just like, Djokovic later lost the fourth set but immediately rebounded and was almost untouchable while leading 5-0 in the fifth.
Djokovic, who has spent more weeks at No.1 in the ATP rankings than anyone else, determines what is needed to emerge on top and does. In each of his last four games – and 10 overall at the Slams this year – he trailed by a set and won.
He equaled Federer on Friday in reaching a 31st career Slam final; Djokovic’s total now includes a record nine in New York.
It will be number 3 for Medvedev, a 25-year-old Russian who knocked out Canada’s 12th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in the afternoon. Medvedev was beaten by Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open final and by Nadal in the 2019 US Open final.
“The more you lose something, the more you want to win it. The more you want to win it and take it,” said Medvedev, who has lost just one set in the past two weeks. “I lost two finals. I want to win the third.”
Djokovic tries to go 4v4 in majors over the course of a season, something that was last done in men’s tennis by Rod Laver 52 years ago. This was also done by Laver in 1962 and Don Budge in 1938. Three women completed what is known as a true Grand Slam, most recently Steffi Graf in 1988. Serena Williams’ attempt in 2015 ended in l ‘US Open with a semi-final loss to Roberta. Vinci.
“There’s only one game left.… All-in. Let’s do it,” Djokovic said, spreading his arms in his interview on the pitch. “I’m going to put my heart and soul and body and my head in this one. I’m going to treat the next game like it’s the last game of my career.”
At the start of Friday night’s semi-final, Laver, 81, was literally looking over Djokovic’s shoulder, sitting front and center behind a backline in the president’s box in Ashe.
A year ago in New York City, when fans were banned due to the coronavirus pandemic, Zverev came so close to winning his first major, taking a two-set lead and getting two championship points before wasting it all. and lose to Dominic Thiem in a tiebreaker in the fifth set.
Zverev came into play on Friday on a 16-game winning streak, a streak that includes beating Djokovic in the Olympic Games semifinals on July 30. It was in a best of three set format, however, which changes everything when it comes to Djokovic. He is now 36-10 in games that last five sets.
Here’s the thing about Djokovic, who occasionally rubbed his lower back with his left hand or slapped his legs with his racquet: Whatever the outward signs seem to say, his racquet stays steady, he never gets stressed and he waits for that. the other guy slips.
“It’s kind of a hurricane, tornado, emotions that you go through in a streak of a set or even a point. You are alone on the pitch, so there is no escape. . You have to find a way, “Djokovic said. “And I think over the years I’ve managed to develop a formula that works for me.”
“Mentally, in the most important moments,” Zverev said after the 3-hour game, “I’d rather play anyone but him.”
Against Zverev things really came to life after six games and 20 minutes, thanks to a formidable 24-stroke point in which Djokovic attempted a drop shot. Zverev succeeded, responded from a seemingly impossible angle and – after Djokovic sprinted off the doubles aisle and stretched to retrieve this, sneakers squeaking all the way – came up with a winner.
The crowd went wild. Zverev raised his right hand and wiggled his fingers: “Louder! Ten minutes later, three missed forehands and a double fault from Djokovic put him in a 5-4 hole. Zverev, a 24-year-old German with a power-based game, served this set with the help of aces at 128 mph and 132 mph and, on the last point, a 128 mph serve that Djokovic pulled out of his frame, sending the ball into the seats.
Zverev went from six unforced errors in that set to 13 in the second, and the game was tied. In the third, loose play from Djokovic and a winning backhand from Zverev created a pair of break points. But Djokovic saved them and held it 3-2 with a forehand that cut the baseline.
Zverev put a hand on one hip, disagreeing that the ball was in it, but there is no recourse at the US Open this year: all decisions are made by electronic appeal and cannot be contested. There are no linesmen to doubt or argue with.
Last year there was, and Djokovic was disqualified from Flushing Meadows in the fourth round when a ball he hit after losing a game inadvertently struck a linesman in the throat. In the next major tournament, the French Open delayed by the pandemic, Djokovic lost in the final against Nadal.
Since then, there have been deficits in Grand Slam matches for Djokovic, but no losses.
“It’s great for the sport,” Zverev said of Djokovic’s pursuit. “No one thought anyone would do it again.… I believe they will.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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