Novak Djokovic tops Matteo Berrettini in U.S. Open QF to close in on true Slam

In U.S. Open semifinals, Novak Djokovic will next face 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev, who defeated the Serbian in the semifinal of the Tokyo Olympics

Never fazed, rarely flummoxed, Novak Djokovic is so collected in best-of-five-set matches even when falling behind, as he has done repeatedly at the U.S. Open.

No opponent, or the prospect of what’s at stake, has been too much to handle. Not yet, anyway. And now he’s two wins away from the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969, along with a men’s-record 21st major championship overall.

Djokovic ceded the opening set for the third consecutive match at Flushing Meadows — and ninth time at a major in 2021 — but again it didn’t matter, because he quickly corrected his strokes and beat No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in a quarterfinal that began on Wednesday night and concluded after midnight on Thursday.

Afterward, Djokovic cut off a question during his on-court interview, sensing where it was headed, and said, “Do not ask me anything about history. I know it’s there.”

As he came back and improved to 26-0 in Grand Slam play this season, Djokovic found every angle, thwarted every big Berrettini shot and was so locked in he dove and dropped his racket during one exchange yet scrambled, rose and reinserted himself in the point. He lost it, but the message to his foe was unmistakable, essentially amounting to, “I will do whatever it takes.”

After 17 unforced errors in the first set, Djokovic made a total of 11 the rest of the way.

“The best three sets I’ve played in the tournament, for sure,” he said.

When Berrettini made one last stand, holding a break point while trailing 4-2 in the third set, Djokovic steadied himself. He let Berrettini put a backhand into the net, then conjured up a 121 mph ace and a forehand winner down the line to hold, then pointed his right index finger to his ear — one of many gestures asking the 20,299 in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands for noise.

Four minutes later, that set was his. And 42 minutes later, the match was.

Djokovic already earned trophies on the Australian Open’s hard courts in February, the French Open’s clay courts in June and Wimbledon’s grass courts in July, defeating Berrettini in the final at the All England Club.

Djokovic has added five victories on the U.S. Open’s hard courts and now faces 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev in Friday’s semifinals. If Djokovic can win that match and Sunday’s final, he will join Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) as the only men to claim all four major tennis singles trophies in one season. (Three women have done it, most recently Steffi Graf in 1988; Serena Williams’ bid in 2015 ended in the U.S. Open semifinals).

One more Slam title also will break the career mark Djokovic currently shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Zverev goes into the semifinals on a 16-match winning streak, including a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 semifinal triumph against Djokovic en route to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I’m pumped," Djokovic said, looking ahead to what awaits. "The bigger the challenge, the more glory in overcoming it.”

The other men’s semifinal is No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, a two-time major finalist, against No. 12 Felix Auger-Aliassime. They won their quarterfinals Tuesday.

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