The US Open has waited 52 years for a man to have a shot at winning the Grand Slam, so what are a few extra hours?
Novak Djokovic, top of the league table, unbeaten this year in best-of-five matches as he pursues the Grand Slam, continued to play in long form again at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night before turning to a romp of sixth. seeded Matteo Berrettini, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Djokovic’s first set against Berrettini was the third consecutive time he lost the opening frame, and also his most taxing set of the tournament. The first game lasted 14 points; the sixth game needed 20 points. Although Djokovic was broken in the 11th game by a forehand that passed the winner of a shot from Berrettini and lost the set shortly after, it was Berrettini who had to leave the field to take off his sweat-soaked clothes, just an hour and 17 minutes into the game.
Djokovic’s detours in this tournament have not led to despondency, but to discovery.
The first set against Berrettini was the fourth set that Djokovic has lost in this tournament. As he did every time, Djokovic took the information he gathered and reprogrammed his playing with greater precision. After making 17 unforced errors in the first set, he hit only three in the second and three in the third. Djokovic made five unforced errors in the fourth set.
Through willpower and persistence, he turned the match in his favor and even won some of the unwilling crowd. When he held out 5-2 in the third, after saving a Berrettini breakpoint and extinguishing all hopes of a comeback, Djokovic held his hand to his ear and pleaded with the crowd to acknowledge his intransigence as he drew closer. the Grand Slam comes, and a record 21st career major singles title.
After getting up for a break early in the fourth set, Djokovic appeared to shift down a gear to drive to the finish, gaining just two points on return to conserve energy. Taking the win after three hours and 27 minutes, Djokovic walked briskly to the net, wasting little energy on an elaborate celebration. It took him seconds to find the wristwatch he’s putting on for the interview on the field to fulfill his sponsorship obligations.
“I was really locked in from the start of the second set,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “I have taken my tennis to another level. These were definitely the best three sets I’ve played in the tournament so far.”
Djokovic has won the first 26 of the 28 matches it takes to complete the Grand Slam, but his 27th test could prove to be one of his toughest. On Friday night, Djokovic will face fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, whose 16-game win streak includes a win over Djokovic in the semifinals of last month’s Tokyo Olympics.
It took Zverev just two hours and six minutes to take his own quarterfinal victory hours earlier. He avoided delay by saving a set point in the tiebreak of his 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-4 win over Lloyd Harris.
Where Djokovic has been effective, Zverev has been efficient. It took Zverev just nine hours and 23 minutes to get his five wins here; Djokovic needed 13 hours and 52 minutes.
In his press conference on Wednesday, Zverev showed confidence but acknowledged the task ahead.
“Against him you prepare to play the best game possible,” Zverev said of Djokovic. “You have to be perfect, otherwise you won’t win.
“Usually you can’t be perfect,” Zverev added. “That’s why people usually lose to him.”