Novak Djokovic outlasts Alexander Zverev in titanic US Open semi-final

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Novak Djokovic is one win away from a 21st major singles championship and the first grand slam of the calendar year in men’s tennis in half a century after coming back from behind for the fourth time in four matches at the US Open, this time a punish the semi-final meeting in five sets with Alexander Zverev, fourth seed.

Amid a crackling atmosphere on a chilly Friday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s best player and seed in the men’s draw overcame another uncertain start against one of the few touring players capable of surpass it from the baseline to win 4 6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in just over three and a half hours and get closer to athletic immortality.

The result saw the top-ranked Djokovic claim 27 perfect wins in 27 games at major tournaments this season, bringing him ever closer to becoming the first male player to win all four of the sport’s fundamental tournaments over the course of the season. the same calendar year since Rod Laver, who swept the spell in 1969 and won Friday’s double semi-final ticket from the President’s Box. If the 34-year-old Djokovic lifted the trophy on Sunday, he would also break a three-way tie at the top of the men’s grand slam standings with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both missing from this year’s tournament due to injury.

“I know people would love to hear me talk about it, but there’s not much to say,” said Djokovic, whose 31st major final appearance equals Federer’s all-time mark. “There is only one game left. All in. Let’s go. I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head in that one.

“I’m going to treat the next game like it’s the last game of my career. “

Djokovic’s fourth straight victory at Flushing Meadows – the 10th time in his 27-game unbeaten streak in which he lost the first set – secured his place in Sunday’s final against the fourth seed Daniil Medvedev, the fit Russian who advanced earlier on Friday with a straightforward 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Six weeks after Zverev rallied to a set to spoil Djokovic’s bid for a so-called gold slam in the Tokyo Olympic semi-finals, the 24-year-old German has spent most of the set in Friday night’s opener to nab Djokovic with flat, heavy groundstrokes deep into the court as both men served for all eight games. But after Djokovic double faulted as he faced his second break point on serve at 4, Zverev was able to serve the first set comfortably in 36 minutes.

Zverev’s booming serve and quality weapon power on both wings make demands that few of Djokovic’s opponents have proven capable of asking, but the world No.1 started to mix spin and slice. in the exchanges in order to make things more complicated for his German opponent. . Djokovic immediately beat Zverev to open the second, then again towards the end, to tie the deal at one set apiece.

The turning point – of the game and perhaps Djokovic’s entire attempt at history – came with Zverev serving at 4-5 in the third and his Serbian foe, just maybe, showing signs of fatigue. After spending most of the night gaining the upper hand over Djokovic in a series of grueling and Pyrrhic rallies, Zverev fell back in back-to-back rallies of 18, 32 and 12 shots for a triple breaking point.

Zverev saved the first (a 21-stroke marathon) and the second (an astonishing 53-stroke pitched battle that lasted 78 seconds), only for Djokovic to win a 16-stroke round-trip with an overhand winner to break for one lead two sets for one. The exhilarating streak drew the crowd of over 23,000 spectators.

A rebellious Zverev beat Djokovic early in the fourth set with a winning forehand across the line, closing a grueling 10-minute game where more than half of the points exceed a dozen or more shots. The break lasted long enough for the German to serve the fourth and force a decisive set, marking the first time Djokovic has been forced to go the distance in a fortnight.

But Zverev, who entered Friday’s semifinal on a breeze of self-confidence amid a 16-game career-winning streak that included Olympic Games and Cincinnati Masters titles, fell behind 15 -30, then 30-40, in his opening service game of the decisive set to give Djokovic a chance to score quickly. It was then that Djokovic delivered a magnificent passing forehand, set up by a skillfully tilted drop shot, to settle a grueling 30-stroke rally and take a 2-0 lead.

It got late early from there for Zverev, who missed just two more games before sending a backhand into the net on match point after 3:34.

“Tennis is a very beautiful sport but a very demanding sport,” said Djokovic. “You have to have a balanced mind and body at all times if you want to compete at the highest level for the biggest trophies. I have been blessed and grateful to be at this point for a very long time.

Djokovic’s final hurdle will be second-seeded Medvedev, scoring the fourth US Open men’s final of the past quarter-century with the top two seeds. The other three have all arrived in the last decade: No.1 Djokovic vs. No.2 Nadal in 2011, No.2 Nadal vs. No.1 Djokovic in 2013, and No.1 Djokovic vs. 2 Federer in 2015.

Earlier on Friday, Medvedev raised his level of play to where it mattered most before securing a 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Auger-Aliassime, the 21-year-old Montrealer who was playing his first major tournament. . semi final.

Two summers ago, Medvedev pushed Nadal to his limits in a five-set US Open final of exquisite quality and heightened intensity. On Sunday, the 25-year-old Russian and number 2 seed will look to go further and win his first Grand Slam title on the site of his closest and most ennobling defeat.

“I don’t think I played my best today, but I’m really happy to be in the final on Sunday,” said fit Medvedev, who has won 14 of his last 15 games and has lost just one. only set on his way to Sunday’s final. “It was a strange game. “

12th seed Auger-Aliassime, who is coached by Nadal’s uncle Toni, was the first Canadian to reach the last four at the US Open in the tournament’s 140-year history and the second to do any major tournament after Milos Raonic at Wimbledon 2016 While initially betraying no indication of nerfing, Auger-Aliassime briefly faltered serving at 3 in the first and was broken in love, paving the way for Medvedev to serve in the first game. in 38 minutes.

Auger-Aliassime, who tightened his first serve considerably from the start of the second, looked set to tie the game at one set apiece when he beat Medvedev in game six and backed him up with a loving hold. for 5-2. But moments after wasting two set points on his serve – the second when he dropped a routine forehand volley into the net – Auger-Aliassime was once broken, then in love again, allowing Medvedev to d ‘snatch a two-set lead to none. .

At that point, the mental rigor having to work for every point against Medvedev and the emotional pressure of his first major semi-final conspired with increasing physical fatigue and unforced errors began to pile up. On rubbery legs, Auger-Aliassime broke twice at the start of third place as Medvedev slid through the board with little resistance after just over two hours.

“A weird game, a bit, in the second set, where I think everyone felt like it was going to be an all set, and you never know where the game is going to go,” said Medvedev, who finished with 37 winners against 25 unforced errors. “Successfully saved set points.” He missed a volley; I made a good point. And the game has completely changed.

For Auger-Aliassime, the youngest man of any country to reach a US Open semi-final since 20-year-old Juan Martín del Potro won the 2009 title, it was a painful lesson to finish a promising fortnight. .

“He didn’t give me a lot of openings,” said the Canadian, who committed more than twice as many unforced errors (39, including 10 double faults) as winners (17). “Against a player like that, you don’t really have room for mistakes, room to lose focus, which I did at the end of the second. He took advantage of it and I had no other chance after that.

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