Djokovic bids for US Open history: Slam year, 21st major

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NEW YORK (AP) – Novak Djokovic remembers how close Serena Williams came to a one-calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015 before failing at the US Open.

He recalls chatting with Williams during this tournament about all that came with a bid for the rare feat, which was only accomplished by two men and three women in the history of a sport stretching back to the late 1980s. 1800s.

After winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, Williams was bowled over in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows by Roberta Vinci. Now Djokovic takes one more step, heading to Sunday’s US Open final against Daniil Medvedev needing one more win to go 28-0 at Grand Slam tournaments and win all four trophies in a single season.

No man has done this since Rod Laver did it for the second time in 1969, no woman since Steffi Graf in 1988. (Laver was in the stands for Friday’s semi-finals and should be there on Sunday too) .

As the finish line approached six years ago, Williams disliked discussing what was at stake, describing himself as “getting fed up” with constant questions about the real Grand Slam.

“She was very emotional about everything that was going on. I can understand what she went through right now. I understand it now, ”said Djokovic, a 34-year-old Serb. “I understand why she wanted to avoid all questions about it, because at the end of the day you have to get out on the pitch and deliver. You are always expected to win.

Like Williams, Djokovic has recently sought to limit his discussion of what he’s trying to do.

“I’m going to give everything I can possibly have in the tank to win this game. I’m focusing on recovery, recalibrating all the systems, basically, for Sunday, ”he said after knocking out No.4 Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in the semi-finals. “I’m not going to waste time or energy on anything that can just be a distraction and drain me of the life energy I need.”

In addition to the quest for 4 for 4 at the Slams, No.1 Djokovic has another step in sight.

If he beats No.2 Medvedev for a 21st career major, Djokovic would eclipse the men’s record he currently shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. A fourth title on the hard courts at Flushing Meadows would follow a ninth on the hard courts at Melbourne Park in February, a second on the clay courts at Roland Garros in June and a sixth on the grass at Wimbledon in July .

It will be the 31st Grand Slam final tied with Djokovic and the ninth record at the US Open.

“If you look at the statistics, if you look at the pure action game of tennis, it’s the greatest of all time,” Zverev said. “Nobody is there with him, because (he has) the most weeks of world No.1, most Masters 1000 titles, it will probably be the most Grand Slam tournaments, at the end of the day. And he’s lucky to win all four in the same year. How do you compete with that? “

With everything in perspective against Medvedev, how is Djokovic preparing to be at his best?

“I know we want to talk about history. I know it’s at stake. I’m aware of it. Of course, I am aware of it. But I’m just trying to lock in what I know is working for me, ”Djokovic said. “I have my routines. I have my people. I isolate myself. I gather all the energy needed for the next battle, only the next game, the next game.

This tunnel vision is essential for him, he says.

His mental toughness might be his greatest attribute.

“He plays the best tennis when he needs it, which a lot of players don’t,” said Zverev, Tokyo Olympics gold medalist and US Open 2020 finalist.

“Mentally, he’s the best player to ever play,” added the 24-year-old German. “Mentally, in the most important moments, I prefer to play against anyone other than him.”

Djokovic, of course, likes this assessment.

He has built that reputation by stepping in when it matters most, regardless of the deficits he faces. Djokovic’s victory over Zverev made him 36-10 in five sets for his career and was his fourth consecutive victory – 10th in a Grand Slam game this year – after losing the first set.

“The players know there is a spirit of never dying with me, especially when I play in Grand Slam. They know that until the last stroke things can change, which has been the case many times in the past. throughout my career, “said Djokovic.” So I’m glad my opponents think of me that way. I want them to feel like they’re under extreme pressure.

Now it’s Medvedev’s turn to handle that in the fourth No.1-No.2 final in New York in the past 25 years – all involving Djokovic.

The match looks like a kind of bookend: it was Medvedev who lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final seven months ago.

If Medvedev wins, he knows he’ll be “probably in the history books a little bit somewhere, (for) not letting him do that. But I don’t really care. I think it’s more. because of him, let it affect him, ”said the 25-year-old Russian, who is aiming for his first major trophy.

“On the one hand, for sure he’s going to feel a bit of the pressure on this,” Medvedev said. “On the other side, that’s what’s going to make it even better in tough times.”

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