New York – just one.
That’s all Novak Djokovic needs at this US Open to complete one of the rarest feats in all sports. That’s all he needs to rewrite tennis history in his own unique way. That’s all he needs to win the Grand Slam.
On a night where he is tested again and pushed to the brink by a competitor of the younger generation, Djokovic played all his old songs In a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 semi-final victory over No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev.
And now, if he can do it again on Sunday at Arthur Ashe Stadium against second seed Daniil Medvedev, would claim an unrivaled 21st major title and have the distinction of being the first man to win the top four tennis tournaments in the same calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.
“I know we want to talk about history,” Djokovic said. “I know it’s at stake. I’m aware of it. Of course, I’m aware of that. But I’m just trying to lock in what I know works for me. I’m going to treat this match as my last match because it is arguably the most important match of my career.”
If Djokovic’s approach to Sunday’s final is about emptying a tank, his mental preparation for Zverev has centered on understanding the kind of fight he will have to endure. But Djokovic didn’t have to look too far from his mold.
A little over a month ago at the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev came off set and collapsed To stun Djokovic in the semi-finals And depriving him of the gold medal that he always sought to add to his collection.
Buoyed by the confidence he earned that day, Zverev traveled into Friday night on a 16-game winning streak and showed throughout the semi-finals that he was ready to go toe-to-toe with Djokovic in a baseline rally. At times, particularly in the fourth set when Zverev took an early break and stuck to it to settle the match, he even started pushing Djokovic hard off the ground.
“I think we just left everything there,” Zverev said.
But in the end, beating Djokovic in the best of five matches requires nothing from the opponent. takes it all. And for Zverev, the margin of error was so small that serving only a few first strikes early in the fifth game opened the door for Djokovic to break him. Just a few minutes later, after Zverev routinely slipped a level over my head at another break point, Djokovic was completely out of danger.
Although Zverev described Djokovic’s second break as “ridiculously unlucky”, the truth is that Djokovic raised his level dramatically in the fifth set, pressing every bit of Zverev’s match until he finally found a way to beat it.
“I am proud of the fight I gave,” Djokovic said. “Maybe I could have played better in some moments, but again, I have to be content to give the best tennis possible in the most important set, which was the fifth set.”
This superhuman ability is why Djokovic stood on the cusp of breaking an almost unimaginable record on Sunday, and why Zverev and other notable players are in their early twenties. Like Stefanos Tsitsipas Medvedev is on the cusp of the Grand Slam title.
“He plays his best tennis when he needs to, which not many players do,” Zverev said. “Look, there is a reason why he has won 20 major tournaments. There is a reason to spend the most weeks in World No. 1. There are so many reasons for that. I think mentally, he is the best player to ever play the game. Mentally, in the most important moments, I prefer playing against anyone. someone else besides him.”
Djokovic’s mental clarity was absolutely essential in this tournament in particular because of the enormity of what he is trying to achieve. When Serena Williams came to Flushing Meadows in 2015 in an effort to finish a Grand Slam tournament, anxiety in her game was palpable throughout the tournament and she eventually lost the semifinals to Roberta Vinci, who never came close to winning a set against her in four. previous meetings.
“I can talk about what she was going through,” Djokovic said. “I understand that now.”
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Whether it was because of the pressure or the opponent or Djokovic simply not playing at his highest level ever, this was an undeniable mill for him to reach the finals. Although he never took a big risk, he lost the first set to his last four opponents and had to figure out how to turn the match around.
As a result, he spent 17 hours and 26 minutes on the field in this tournament. By contrast, Medvedev was ruthlessly efficient, needing only 11 hours and 51 minutes to reach the final.
Whether this is significant is not clear. When they met in the Australian Open final in January, Djokovic jumped on him early and never calmed down, winning 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. Medvedev admitted on Friday that he didn’t fight as hard as he should have been in that match but vowed it wouldn’t happen this time.
Given Medvedev’s good performance this summer, Djokovic is likely to have another long and difficult battle on his hands to secure the Grand Slam. Making history isn’t supposed to be easy.
“The job is not over,” Djokovic said. “The excitement is there. The motivation is there, no doubt. Maybe more than ever. But I have another one to go with.”
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