Novak Djokovic beats Alexander Zverev to play for Grand Slam at US Open

Twenty-seven down, one to go. With a five-set victory over Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Friday night, Novak Djokovic came close to one...

Twenty-seven down, one to go.

With a five-set victory over Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Friday night, Novak Djokovic came close to one game to claim tennis’s most sacred achievement.

After winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this year and knocking out his first challengers at the US Open, Djokovic just has to beat Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final for become the first man to win the Grand Slam in a calendar. year in 52 years.

And he got there in style, coming from behind early on, then surviving an onslaught of an opponent who for a while looked like he might just have Djokovic’s number. Zverev approached, forcing Djokovic to go the distance in a grueling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory, but the very thin margin only made it the number one. Djokovic at the Grand Slam in 2021 seems more mysterious.

Friday night’s victory set the stage for one of tennis’ most remarkable weekends. On Saturday, teenage sensations Emma Raducanu of Great Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who captivated their countries and crowds at the US Open, will face off for the women’s title in the most unlikely of finals.

Raducanu, 18 and 150th ranked in the world, was barely known two weeks ago and is now the first player to reach a Grand Slam final after making it into the main draw of the qualifying tournament. Fernandez, who turned 19 this week and is ranked 73rd, was until a few days ago known as little more than a rambling, undersized fighter whose future was to be guessed.

On Sunday, Djokovic will face Medvedev and play for history. He is tied with his biggest rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the race for most career Grand Slam titles with 20, a competition Djokovic is determined to win so he can cement his legacy in as the greatest player of all time. But this race may take a few more years to reach its conclusion. At this point, however, it’s almost impossible to believe that Federer and Nadal, who struggle with age and injury, can win a one-calendar-year Grand Slam. This is what would make Djokovic the greatest of the Big Three forever.

“The job is not done,” Djokovic said shortly after midnight on Saturday morning. “The excitement is there. The motivation is there, without a doubt. Probably more than ever. But I still have one to do.

Djokovic entered Friday night’s battle against fourth-seeded Zverev after playing what he called the tournament’s three best sets in a quarter-final loss to Matteo Berrettini: a four-set victory against a younger, bigger and more powerful opponent.

Djokovic, 34, was going to need another performance against Zverev, a so-called next-gen star who last year figured out how to keep his cool in the biggest moments. In the US Open Final last year, Zverev lost a two-set lead and even served for the championship, only to lose to Dominic Thiem in a tiebreaker at the end of a fifth set that turned out to be in a parade of slices, mistakes and double faults.

This version of Zverev has disappeared in recent months, especially against Djokovic. At the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev roared back from a set and a service outage crush Djokovic in the semi-final.

When the US Open draw came out two weeks ago, a rematch with Zverev in the semi-finals presented itself as one of the biggest potential hurdles for Djokovic in his quest for the Holy Grail. of his sport. Zverev, 24, is 6ft 6in, floats around the tennis court with the grace of an NBA shooting guard, and can unleash 130mph serves and lightning forehands at will when playing well.

For the first time since the start of the tournament, the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd was firmly in Djokovic’s corner. He has long been much more respected than loved, but a former girlfriend accused Zverev of repeatedly abusing her in 2019. No charges have been filed and Zverev has denied the allegations, but the situation is out. court disqualified him from being adopted as an endearing outsider.

The chants of “Nole” – Djokovic’s favorite nickname – started early in the night and energized him as he rode his final comeback.

The match started out like so many others did for Djokovic – with an early hiccup that made the mountain even steeper.

The slip came as Djokovic served with a score equal to four games apiece, a tricky moment against someone with a serve as powerful as Zverev’s.

Zverev played his most aggressive game of the young night, whipping forehands that forced Djokovic to stretch on his backhand. Zverev took the lead, then Djokovic double faulted to give the great German a chance to serve the set. He didn’t waste it. Zverev won the first set, as did Djokovic’s three previous opponents.

But Djokovic is as good at reversing the scenario as anyone who has ever picked up a racket.

Berrettini said Djokovic somehow gains energy by losing a set, rather than getting demoralized. Much like he had done in his last three matches, Djokovic raised the level of his game and took a lead in the second set as Zverev started hitting untimely second serves into the net and being rocked by the types of long exchanges that are the strength of Djokovic. An hour and a quarter after starting, Djokovic and Zverev were back where they started, all tied up.

The turning point came almost an hour later. With Zverev serving to stay in the set, Djokovic showed tennis genius and played a game that may be what historians point to as the time when the Grand Slam finish line finally appeared.

No one at Arthur Ashe Stadium knew better than Zverev that rallying to Djokovic would result in a slow and painful death. And yet somehow Djokovic managed to play a sort of Tai-chi tennis, sustaining rallies of 18, 32, and 12 strokes to hit the triple set point. Zverev survived a 21-shootout and an absurd 53 to save the first two.

Then, on the 15th shot from the game’s sixth point, he couldn’t do better than throwing a desperate lob at Djokovic, who waited at the net to crush him to take the lead for the first time all night.

Zverev wouldn’t go quietly, however. He took a page from Djokovic’s playbook and seemed to somehow draw energy from being late. With Djokovic serving at 1-1, Zverev struggled to turn Game 3 into a mini-marathon, digging and landing it with a successful forehand that Djokovic couldn’t hit. With Zverev’s serve topping the 130 mph mark, Djokovic couldn’t find the opening for revenge. Djokovic’s luck in history was reduced to one set.

Djokovic’s run to the precipice of the Grand Slam had its share of breakouts in five sets. There was a breakout at the start of the tour in Australia in February, when he overcame a torn abdominal muscle and American Taylor Fritz. In Paris, he came back from two sets to Lorenzo Musetti halfway through and against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

Now came the opportunity for another, and he wasted no time jumping on it. Holding a 1-0 lead, Djokovic – and probably everyone in the stadium – could sense that Zverev was shaking, the former Zverev was coming back. A double fault gave Djokovic a snort during a 15-30 break. A backhand error gave Djokovic the breaking point. Then another rally went the wrong way for Zverev, and the whole thing turned into a seemingly inevitable series of Zverev misfires, including an overhead jump smashed wildly out of bounds.

One last backhand mistake for a final break on serve and after 3 hours and 35 minutes Zverev was finally done.

A match that could have gone one way or the other, Zverev called. “It worked for him,” he said. “Very often it is.”

And now the Grand Slam calculations are getting very, very simple: The only numbers that mattered were these – 27 fewer games, one to play.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Novak Djokovic beats Alexander Zverev to play for Grand Slam at US Open
Novak Djokovic beats Alexander Zverev to play for Grand Slam at US Open
Newsrust - US Top News
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