'It burdens me': Novak Djokovic dodges big question at US Open

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Pictured here, Novak Djokovic roars in delight after his quarter-final win at the US Open.
Novak Djokovic is two wins away from a record-breaking 21st major title and a calendar year Grand Slam. Pic: AAP

Novak Djokovic is just two wins away from one of the most extraordinary feats in tennis history. Just don't ask him about it.

Djokovic's quest for a record breaking 21st major and the first men's calendar year Grand Slam since 1969 gathered steam after a come-from-behind win against Italy's Matteo Berrettini in the quarter0-finals at Flushing Meadows.

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The World No.1 ceded the opening set for the third consecutive match at Flushing Meadows — and ninth time at a major in 2021 — but again it didn't matter, because he quickly corrected his strokes and beat No. 6 seed Berrettini 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

Patrick McEnroe interviewed the Serbian star after the victory but was cut off in a terse moment when he asked the 20-time grand slam champion about his quest to make tennis history.

“Well, lastly Novak, talking about big challenges, five down, two to go,” McEnroe started off by saying before Djokovic jumped in to cut him off.

“I’m only focusing on the next match,” the Serb insisted. 

“You don’t have to ask me anything about that.

“I don’t want to think about it, I know it’s there, just focusing on the next match and let’s go step-by-step.”

Djokovic elaborated briefly on the touchy subject in his post-match press conference but said he wouldn't let himself be burdened by what is at stake.

“Of course I’m aware of the history, of course it gives me motivation,” Djokovic said at his news conference afterwards.

“If I start to think about it too much, it burdens me mentally. I want to really go back to the basics and what really works for me mentally.”

Djokovic again demonstrated how hard he is to beat in the best-of-fives sets after dropping the opening stanza against Berrettini.

After 17 unforced errors in the first set, Djokovic made a total of just 11 for the remainder of the match.

“The best three sets I’ve played in the tournament, for sure,” he said afterwards.

When Berrettini made one last stand, holding a break point while trailing 4-2 in the third set, Djokovic steadied himself. 

He let Berrettini put a backhand into the net, then conjured up a 121 mph ace and a forehand winner down the line to hold, then pointed his right index finger to his ear — one of many gestures asking the 20,299 in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands for noise.

Four minutes later, that set was his. And 42 minutes later, the match was.

Novak Djokovic on cusp of history 

“He has this ability — and probably that’s why he’s the best ever — just to step up his game, his level, all the time,” said Berrettini, who also lost to Djokovic after taking the first set of the Wimbledon final. “Doesn’t matter how well I play, he just plays better.”

Djokovic already earned trophies on the Australian Open’s hard courts in February, the French Open’s clay courts in June and Wimbledon’s grass courts in July.

Pictured here, Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his US Open quarter-final victory.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates his US Open quarter-final victory. Pic: Getty

Djokovic has added five victories on the US Open's hard courts and now faces 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev in Friday's semifinals. 

If Djokovic can win that match and Sunday’s final, he will join Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) as the only men to claim all four major tennis singles trophies in one season. (Three women have done it, most recently Steffi Graf in 1988; Serena Williams' bid in 2015 ended in the U.S. Open semifinals).

One more major also will break the career mark Djokovic currently shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Zverev goes into the semifinals on a 16-match winning streak, including a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 semifinal triumph against Djokovic en route to the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I'm pumped," Djokovic said, looking ahead to what awaits. 

"The bigger the challenge, the more glory in overcoming it.”

The other men's semifinal is No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, a two-time major finalist, against No. 12 Felix Auger-Aliassime. 

The 24-year-old German Zverev advanced with a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 win over Lloyd Harris.

with agencies

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