New York: Alexander Zverev said he’d have to play the perfect match to end Novak Djokovic’s quest for the Grand Slam in Friday’s second men’s semifinal at Flushing Meadows for the 2021 US Open. The 24-year-old was perfect in spurts and inspired in others, but ultimately not good enough to stop Djokovic and his quest for tennis immortality in New York this weekend.
No. 4 seed Zverev took the opening set and also wrestled the fourth from Djokovic, but the world No. 1 responded with inspired tennis to sweep through the final set to notch a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 triumph that places him on the precipice of history. With his triumph, Djokovic sets a final with No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev as he moves to within one victory of becoming the first male tennis player to win the Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.
Djokovic, who has spent more weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings than anyone, figures out what is required to emerge on top and does it. In each of his past four matches - and 10 in all at the Slams this year - he trailed by a set and won.
He equalled Federer by getting to a 31st career Slam final; Djokovic's total now includes a record nine in New York, where he has won three championships.
"The more you lose something, the more you want to win it. The more you want to gain it and take it," said Medvedev, who has lost only one set over the past two weeks.
"I lost two finals. I want to win the third one."
Djokovic is trying to go 4 for 4 at the majors over the course of one season, something last done in men's tennis by Rod Laver 52 years ago. It was also done by Laver in 1962 and Don Budge in 1938. Three women have completed what's known as a true Grand Slam, most recently Steffi Graf in 1988. Serena Williams' attempt in 2015 ended at the U.S. Open with a semifinal loss to Roberta Vinci.
“I know that people would like to hear me talk about it but there is not much to talk about,” Djokovic said of his quest. “There is only one match leftーall in. I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head into that one. I’m going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career.”
Zverev didn’t go down without a fight. The German made 72 per cent of his first serves in sets one and four, and won 33 of 38 first serve points in those sets to put the outcome in doubt.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” Djokovic told the crowd.
“The best atmosphere of the tournament so far. These are the moments we live for and these are the unique opportunities that we dream of every day when we wake up and try to find the motivation to go out there. It pays off when you are playing in this beautiful stadium with this atmosphere.”
Djokovic’s mission won’t get any easier. With his seventh career victory over Zverev, Djokovic sets up a battle with red-hot Medvedev, the Russian who played the US Open final in 2019 and who has won 18 of his last 20 matches at Flushing Meadows.
Medvedev, who swept past Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, in Friday’s first semifinal, trails his lifetime head-to-head with Djokovic 5-3, and he has never defeated Djokovic at a Grand Slam.
Djokovic has dropped the first set ten times in his 27 Grand Slam matches in 2021, but he has rebounded to win each one. The Serb entered the season with a 31-36 record at the majors after dropping the opening set.
Djokovic will contest his 31st major final on Sunday, which ties Roger Federer for the all-time record, and his 9th at the US Open, which breaks a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl for the Open era record.