The newest rivalry in tennis edges ever closer to its latest denouement, after Novak Djokovic booked his place in a 47th Grand Slam semi-final with relative ease in New York.
The prospect is increasingly looming of Djokovic facing world No1 Carlos Alcaraz in a third final in less than two months, after thrillers at Wimbledon and Cincinnati made up for a one-sided affair at the French Open in the Serbian’s favour.
Djokovic played his part in making light work of Taylor Fritz 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in his quarter-final. The elder statesman of the men’s game was back to his clinical best, despite his American opponent briefly threatening to launch a late and unlikely fightback. He now faces Ben Shelton for a place in the final. The 36-year-old said he was relishing a mostly supportive but often volatile New York crowd, with whom he briefly took umbrage.
For Djokovic, it was a stepping stone to a potentially record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
There were signs that Djokovic has been struggling at points with the intense heat and humidity. The acid test potentially lies in wait against a 20-year-old Alcaraz should both make the final.
Of his ability to recover, Djokovic said: “I would just say it’s different. I have to have an approach that is different from 10 years ago.”
Despite his relatively rapid victory, there were signs that Djokovic was struggling with the hot conditions, as well as taking issue with a supporter in or around his players’ box.
The result marked a fourth straight-sets victory at this year’s US Open, the one blemish coming in the third round with countryman Laslo Dere, who took a two-set lead against his fellow Serbian.
Djokovic said: “It was a great match again. We both struggled physically. Very humid conditions, reaching the towel more or less after every point. But in the crucial moments I managed to stay tough and find the right shots, make him play always an extra shot, making him run.
“It was a great test. I was very determined. I really didn’t want him to win the third set, because then the crowd would get into it even more and it would become a more difficult task, because it’s normal to expect that most of the crowd would support the home player.”