Djokovic into final, grand slam beckons

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Novak Djokovic has vowed to play the US Open final as if it is the last match of his career as he stands on the verge of completing the first calendar-year grand slam for a man since 1969.

The world No.1 triumphed in an epic 4-6 6-2 6-4 4-6 6-2 semi-final clash with Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Alexander Zverev at Flushing Meadows on Friday night, making him 27-0 in major championships this season.

Beating world No.2 Daniil Medvedev on Sunday for the title will allow Djokovic to secure two huge milestones.

The 34-year-old from Serbia would collect his 21st slam title in all, breaking the men's career mark he currently shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

And he would add the 2021 US Open trophy to those he won at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon earlier this year - a calendar-year feat last achieved in men's tennis by Australia's Rod Laver 52 years ago.

As Friday night's semi-final unfolded, 81-year-old Laver - who also completed the grand slam in 1962 - was literally looking over Djokovic's shoulder, seated front and centre behind a baseline in the President's Box.

"There's only one match left. ... All in. Let's do it," Djokovic said. "I'm going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head into that one.

"I'm going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career."

The night semi-final featured one extended exchange after another, including a 53-shot, minute-plus point late in the third set that was the longest of the tournament and was lost by Djokovic on a forehand winner by Zverev as 21,139 spectators rose in unison.

But that one outcome didn't matter. Never seems to with Djokovic, especially in best-of-five-set matches on his sport's most prestigious stages. As usual, he used his superb returning and never-take-a-rest defence to wear down Zverev.

Djokovic, who has spent more weeks at No.1 than anyone, figures out what is required to emerge on top and does it. In each of his past four matches - and 10 in all at the slams this year - he trailed by a set and won.

"You are by yourself on the court, so there is no escape. You've got to find a way," Djokovic said. "And I think, over the years, I have managed to develop a formula that works for me."

He has now also equaled Federer by getting to a 31st career slam final; Djokovic's total now includes a record nine in New York, where he has won three championships.

It will be a third grand slam final for Medvedev, the 25-year-old from Russia, who eliminated 12th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-4 7-5 6-2 in his semi.

Medvedev was defeated by Djokovic in this year's Australian Open final and by Nadal in the 2019 US Open final.

"The more you lose something, the more you want to win it. The more you want to gain it and take it," said Medvedev, who has lost only one set over the past two weeks. "I lost two finals. I want to win the third one."

For Medvedev to win he will need to produce something truly remarkable.

"Mentally, in the most important moments, I would rather play against anybody but (Djokovic)," said Zverev after his three and a half hour semi.

"It's great for the sport," he added about Djokovic's grand slam pursuit. "Nobody thought that anybody would do it again. ... I do believe that he will do it."

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