US Open 2021: As Novak Djokovic faces historical past, he tries to dam it out

US Open 2021: As Novak Djokovic faces historical past, he tries to dam it out

— Novak Djokovic would possibly disagree, however after a 52-year vigil within the males’s recreation, you need the Grand Slam to be worthy of the wait.

You need it to be not simply inspiring however devilishly tough, with opponents throwing coronary heart, soul and full-cut forehands into stopping the search.

You need, in essence, matches like Djokovic’s Friday evening semifinal on the U.S. Open in opposition to Alexander Zverev. 5 units of thorny questions answered and of break factors saved by which, as so usually within the moments that matter most, Djokovic discovered a solution to impose his recreation and can.

“He performs the very best tennis when he must, which a variety of gamers don’t,” Zverev stated.

Djokovic was calm, unusually calm, as he once more labored all of it out, sifting by means of risk-reward ratios, making tactical shifts and, above all, refusing to overlook on the largest factors. Full focus was required, as a result of the hazard of his Grand Slam working onto the rocks was actual, simply as it will likely be Sunday when he faces Daniil Medvedev, one other taller and far youthful opponent, within the finale.

Djokovic, a person who likes to chew on the grass after profitable Wimbledon, is shut sufficient to style his twenty first profession Grand Slam singles title, which might break his tie with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the boys’s report. However the shiniest prize at this stage is the Grand Slam: profitable all 4 main singles titles in the identical season.

Nadal and Federer, for all their items and enduring excellence, have by no means come shut. Djokovic is one match away, which isn’t any shock to Open officers, who way back recruited Rod Laver to come back to New York to award the trophy Sunday.

Laver, an Australian lefthander nicknamed Rocket, accomplished the Grand Slam in 1962 as an novice and in 1969 as knowledgeable. No man has carried out it since. His pink hair has lengthy since gone grey. He’s 83 and nonetheless passionate in regards to the recreation, and he was entrance and middle within the president’s field Friday, simply as he might be on Sunday.

“I’m going to deal with the following match prefer it’s the final match of my profession,” Djokovic informed ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe in his on-court interview Friday.

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It will have been extra symbolic if Nadal or Federer have been the one attempting to maintain Djokovic from clearing the ultimate hurdle. However a champion can play solely the opposition he’s dealt, and if Nadal and Federer have each been sidelined at this superior stage with accidents, that solely underscores Djokovic’s resilience and longevity.

Staying wholesome sufficient to maintain profitable is a part of the greatness equation, a part of the problem, and it has been left to Djokovic, nonetheless No. 1, to carry off the following technology in New York.

Thus far, so nice in opposition to the very best expertise accessible: Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini within the quarterfinals and 2021 Olympic gold medalist Zverev within the semifinals.

“Look, there’s a cause why he’s gained 20 Grand Slams, and there’s a cause why he’s spent essentially the most weeks at world No. 1,” Zverev stated. “I feel mentally he’s the very best participant to ever play the sport. Mentally in a very powerful moments. I might slightly play in opposition to anyone else however him.”

Djokovic, who is aware of Zverev effectively as a result of each are based mostly in Monte Carlo, can sense the trepidation within the opposition and takes power from it.

“Most likely all these huge matches that I gained, huge titles through the years, have sort of constructed that sort of aura round me that gamers know there’s a never-die spirit with me, particularly once I play Grand Slams,” he stated. “They know that till the final shot, issues can flip round, which was the case in a number of events all through my profession. So I’m glad that my opponents consider me that manner. I need them to really feel that they’re below excessive strain once I’m dealing with them on a giant stage in Grand Slams.”

Djokovic was not all the time a rock. Early in his profession, he had a popularity for taking frequent damage timeouts and retiring from matches. In 2008 on the U.S. Open, American star Andy Roddick mocked Djokovic at a information convention by reciting a principally fictional laundry record of his illnesses, together with each ankles, “a again and a hip, cramp, fowl flu, anthrax, SARS, widespread cough and chilly.”

Was Djokovic bluffing throughout matches?

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Roddick demurred. “If it’s there, it’s there,” he stated. “There’s only a lot. He’s both fast to name a coach, or he’s essentially the most brave man of all time. I feel it’s up for you guys to determine.”

That trade looks as if historic historical past. Djokovic addressed his endurance points and respiration difficulties with two surgical procedures for a deviated septum and a shift in 2010 to a gluten-free, largely plant-based weight loss program.

He grew to become an ironman, and greater than a decade later, the youthful set nonetheless can not sustain. After defeating Zverev, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, Djokovic’s report in five-set matches is an outstanding 36-10.

The final man who can cease the Grand Slam is Medvedev, 25, a lean, trilingual Russian who’s ranked No. 2 and is at his finest on onerous courts.

He misplaced the 2019 U.S. Open last in 5 units to Nadal, and Medvedev’s glowing kind at the beginning of this season had many anticipating one other traditional match when he confronted Djokovic within the Australian Open last.

As an alternative, Djokovic gained, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, breaking Medvedev’s recreation and spirit after a detailed first set. However Medvedev, who has gained 14 of his final 15 matches, has had a extra restful journey to the ultimate in New York than Djokovic, dropping only one set to Djokovic’s six.

“I’m going to offer all I’ve left on Sunday, and I’ve lots left,” Medvedev stated after defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight units.

Medvedev has overwhelmed Djokovic thrice in best-of-three-set matches however by no means within the best-of-five format. Opinions are divided on what method he ought to take. McEnroe, a former U.S. Davis Cup captain who was courtside for ESPN Friday, believes Medvedev must “out-patience” Djokovic.

US open, Djokovic Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a backhand in opposition to Alexander Zverev of Germany (not pictured) on day twelve of the 2021 U.S. Open tennis event at USTA Billie Jean King Nationwide Tennis Middle. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports activities)

“It appeared to me like Medvedev got here out in Australia and thought, ‘I’ll outhit this man,’ however he doesn’t hit sufficiently big to outhit him,” McEnroe stated. “He has to outmaneuver him, which I feel he can do. I feel he has the shot tolerance. The query is, does he have the heart? You’ve acquired to be prepared to go to the wall in each manner, form and kind and never solely play your finest strategic match however bodily be able to endure like you may have by no means suffered earlier than.”

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What is evident is that Medvedev, in his third main last, now not is content material with making a deep run. He needs his first Grand Slam title way more than he cares about stopping Djokovic’s Grand Slam.

“It’s true there’s a variety of stake for him, and although that might put a variety of strain on him, understanding him, the strain will make him stronger,” Medvedev stated. “I’m simply going to offer all I’ve, and I’m absolutely not going to suppose in the course of the match if I’m profitable that ‘OK, I’m ruining the report he’s attempting to beat.’ It’s solely the match that counts for me.”

Djokovic additionally will attempt to deal with the match and solely the match whereas recognizing that this implies ignoring the elephant within the stadium.

“I do know we need to discuss historical past; I do know it’s on the road,” he stated late Friday evening. “In fact, I’m conscious of it, however I’m simply attempting to lock into what I do know works for me. I’ve my routines. I’ve my individuals. I isolate myself. I collect all the required vitality for the following battle, solely the following match.”

It’s onerous to wager in opposition to him at this stage. After he has reeled within the greats, Federer and Nadal. After he has stared down a lot strain. After he has added dimensions to his recreation, just like the drop photographs that have been usually so efficient in opposition to Zverev on Friday.

However the Grand Slam has lengthy been tennis’s steepest hill to climb, and it will likely be tough to dam it out with Laver entrance and middle and Djokovic so near one thing so uncommon.

However then shouldn’t a Grand Slam be onerous, very onerous, after a 52-year wait?

This text initially appeared in The New York Occasions.

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