Twenty-seven down, one to go.
With a five-set win over Alexander Zverev of Germany on Friday night time, Novak Djokovic moved to inside a single match victory of pulling off probably the most hallowed achievement in tennis.
After profitable the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this 12 months and knocking out his first challengers on the U.S. Open, Djokovic now has to defeat solely Daniil Medvedev of Russia in Sunday’s remaining to turn into the primary man to win the Grand Slam in a calendar 12 months in 52 years.
And he obtained there in model, coming from behind early on, then surviving an onslaught from an opponent who appeared for a time that he would possibly simply have Djokovic’s quantity. Zverev got here shut, forcing Djokovic to go the gap in a grueling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win, however the razor-thin margin solely made Djokovic’s quantity on the Grand Slams in 2021 appear much more mysterious.
people, we actually have to work on our catching abilities… pic.twitter.com/Yp9DwwAQmt
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2021
The win Friday night time set the stage for one of the crucial exceptional weekends in tennis. On Saturday, teenage sensations Emma Raducanu of Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who’ve captivated their nations and the crowds on the U.S. Open, will compete for the ladies’s title within the unlikeliest of finals.
Raducanu, 18 and ranked a hundred and fiftieth on this planet, was barely identified two weeks in the past and now could be the primary participant to achieve a Grand Slam remaining after making it into the principle draw via the qualifying match. Fernandez, who turned 19 this week and is ranked 73rd, was till just a few days in the past often known as little greater than a scrappy, undersized battler whose future was anybody’s guess.
On Sunday, Djokovic will tackle Medvedev and play for historical past. He’s tied along with his largest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, within the race for probably the most profession Grand Slam titles with 20, a contest that Djokovic is decided to win so he can cement his legacy as the best participant ever. However that race could take just a few extra years to achieve its conclusion. At this level, although, it’s practically unimaginable to consider that Federer and Nadal, who’re battling age and damage, can win a calendar 12 months Grand Slam. It’s the factor that might make Djokovic the most important of the Large Three eternally.
Djokovic went into Friday night time’s battle with fourth-seeded Zverev after taking part in what he mentioned have been the three finest units of the match in a quarterfinal defeat of Matteo Berrettini: a four-set, come-from-behind win over a youthful, greater and extra highly effective opponent.
Djokovic, 34, was going to want a repeat efficiency in opposition to Zverev, a so-called subsequent era star who has found out within the final 12 months how you can preserve his cool within the largest moments. Within the U.S. Open remaining final 12 months, Zverev blew a two-set lead, and even served for the championship, solely to lose to Dominic Thiem in a tiebreaker on the finish of a fifth set that descended right into a parade of slices, errors and double faults.
That model of Zverev has disappeared in current months, particularly in opposition to Djokovic. Within the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev roared again from a set and a service break right down to overwhelm Djokovic in a semifinal.
When the draw for the U.S. Open got here out two weeks in the past, a rematch with Zverev within the semifinal spherical loomed as one of many largest potential obstacles for Djokovic in his hunt for his sport’s holy grail. Zverev, 24, stands 6 toes 6 inches tall, floats across the tennis court docket with the grace of an NBA capturing guard, and may unleash 130 mph serves and rocketing forehands at will when he’s taking part in effectively.
For the primary time because the match started, although, the group in Arthur Ashe Stadium was firmly in Djokovic’s nook. He has lengthy been much more revered than liked, however a former girlfriend has accused Zverev of abusing her repeatedly in 2019. No prices have been filed, and Zverev has denied the allegations, however the off-the-court state of affairs disqualified him from being embraced as an endearing underdog.
Chants of “Nole” — Djokovic’s favored nickname — started early within the night time and spurred him as he mounted his newest comeback.
The match began as so many others have for Djokovic — with an early hiccup that made the mountain he must climb that a lot steeper.
This slip occurred as Djokovic served with the rating tied at 4 video games every, a second fraught with hazard in opposition to somebody with a function highly effective as Zverev’s.
Zverev performed his most aggressive recreation of the younger night time, whipping forehands that pressured Djokovic to stretch on his backhand. Zverev inched forward, after which Djokovic double-faulted to present the large German an opportunity to serve out the set. He didn’t waste it. Zverev received the opening set, simply as Djokovic’s earlier three opponents had.
However Djokovic is nearly as good at flipping the script as anybody who has ever picked up a racket.
Berrettini has mentioned Djokovic one way or the other positive factors power from shedding a set, reasonably than turning into demoralized. Simply as he had in his final three matches, Djokovic raised the extent of his recreation and surged to a second-set lead as Zverev started swatting premature second serves into the web and getting lulled into the sorts of lengthy rallies which are Djokovic’s energy. An hour-and-a-quarter after they started, Djokovic and Zverev have been again the place they began, all tied up.
The turning level of the match got here practically an hour later. With Zverev serving to remain within the set, Djokovic placed on a show of tennis genius and performed a recreation which may be the one historians level to because the second the end line of the Grand Slam lastly got here into sight.
Nobody in Arthur Ashe Stadium knew higher than Zverev that rallying with Djokovic would lead to a gradual and painful loss of life. And but, one way or the other, Djokovic managed to play a form of tennis tai chi, sustaining rallies of 18, 32 and 12 photographs to get to triple set level. Zverev survived rallies of 21 photographs and an absurd 53 to avoid wasting the primary two.
Then, on the fifteenth shot of the sixth level of the sport, he may do no higher than float a determined lob to Djokovic, who was ready on the web to swat it right down to take the lead for the primary time all night time.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 11, 2021
Zverev wouldn’t go quietly, although. He took a web page out of the Djokovic playbook and one way or the other appeared to attract power from falling behind. With Djokovic serving at 1-1, Zverev battled to show the third recreation right into a mini-marathon, digging in and clinching it with a slick forehand passing shot that Djokovic couldn’t come near touching. With Zverev’s serve cranking up past the 130 mph mark, Djokovic couldn’t discover the opening to get even. Djokovic’s likelihood at historical past was right down to a single set.
Djokovic’s run to the precipice of the Grand Slam has had its share five-set escapes. There was an early spherical escape in Australia in February, when he overcame a torn belly muscle and the American Taylor Fritz. In Paris, he got here again from two units right down to Lorenzo Musetti halfway via the match and in opposition to Stefanos Tsitsipas within the remaining.
Now got here the prospect for yet another, and he didn’t waste any time leaping on it. Holding a 1-0 lead, Djokovic — and sure everybody else within the stadium — may sense Zverev rising shaky. A double-fault gave Djokovic a sniff at a break at 15-30. A backhand error gave Djokovic the break level. Then yet another rally went the mistaken method for Zverev, and the set turned a seemingly inevitable sequence of Zverev misses, together with one leaping overhead smashed wildly out of bounds.
One final backhand error for one final service break and after 3 hours and 35 minutes, Zverev was lastly completed, and the Grand Slam math was very, quite simple: The one numbers that mattered have been these — 27 matches down, one to go.