Novak Djokovic has closed to within two matches of an historic Grand Slam after withstanding an early struggle against sixth seed Matteo Berrettini in the US Open quarter-finals on Wednesday night.
The top seed hailed the Italian as the “hammer of tennis” for his thunderous serve and forehand ahead of their third straight major championship showdown. But the Serbian again drew on his superior movement and returns to nullify the 25-year-old’s chief weapons 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in three hours and 30 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
For the fourth time in five matches this campaign, Djokovic dropped a set only to pull comfortably clear in the third and fourth sets. He remained unbeaten from their four ATP Head2Head meetings, improved to 12-0 in US Open quarter-finals and 42-9 across all majors at that stage. It was his 80th match win at Flushing Meadows.
Make it 8️⃣0️⃣ wins in New York for the legend, Novak Djokovic. pic.twitter.com/zcfVXsh1Fx
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2021
“It was a great match, a lot of energy on the court, off the court as well. Matteo is a terrific player, an established Top 10 player. Every time we face each other it’s a close battle,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“When I lost the first set I managed to forget about it and move on, kind of be in the moment and I think I was locked in from the beginning of the second set. I took my tennis to a different level. It was the best three sets of tennis I’ve played so far in the tournament for sure.”
Djokovic won 74 per cent of first-serve points and hit 44 winners, including 12 aces. He hit 15 fewer unforced errors than his opponent’s 43.
“I wanted to start out the match well, I thought I did tonight. I had some break points midway through the first set but he has one of the best serves in the game,” he said. “There’s a reason why they call him a hammer in tennis. He’s got a big serve and forehand.
“Next to [Juan Martin] del Potro probably the biggest serve and forehand we have in tennis so I had to be really focused on every point, not allowing him to come back into the match. I think it was a great performance overall.”
The opening set was physically demanding as both battled hard on serve. Six of 12 games in the set went to at least one Deuce, the longest of which came at 2-3 with Berrettini serving.
In a 12-minute, seven-Deuce game, the Italian fended off two break points to hold with a bellow of “c’mon” for 3-3. It proved crucial as neither player could be separated.
Djokovic failed to capitalise when Berrettini landed only one of six first serves as he served to stay in the set at 4-5. A game later the sixth seed rolled a crosscourt forehand pass from deep behind the baseline to snare the first break and the chance to serve for the opening set.
If Djokovic was to keep his campaign alive he would have to do it from a set down for the third time as Berrettini converted on his fourth opportunity to take the opening set after 78 minutes.
The Italian finished the first set landing 63 per cent of first serves, but through his opening two games on serve in the second set he had dropped to 50 per cent and Djokovic pounced on the dip. The Serbian landed his first break of the match for 3-1 and although Berrettini pulled off back-to-back aces on his way to a 2-4 hold, the pressure did not subside.
Djokovic landed the double break and with it the set two games later when his opponent dumped a backhand into the net. Already down an early break in the third set, Berrettini was forced to dig deep for 1-3 as the roof began to close above Arthur Ashe Stadium. It did nothing to slow Djokovic’s momentum as he ran his opponent ragged to secure the double break and with it a two-sets-to-one lead.
The top seed had fans on their feet when he whipped a crosscourt forehand pass to break early in the fourth set and from there he never looked back. Fourth seed Alexander Zverev awaits in the semi-finals where Djokovic will seek revenge for his Tokyo Olympics semi-final defeat to the 24-year-old.
“He’s in tremendous form, he’s been winning a lot. After Wimbledon I don’t think he’s lost a match,” Djokovic said. “Winning gold in the Olympics, winning in Cincinnati pretty comfortably, he moved into the semi-finals here… We played a month ago in Tokyo. I was a set and a break up and he managed to turn that around.
“[It’s the] semi-finals of a Grand Slam right now, he’s one of the best players in the world and I’m pumped. The bigger the challenge the more glory in overcoming it.”