Djokovic closes in on true slam at US Open

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Never fazed, rarely flummoxed, Novak Djokovic is so collected in best-of-five-set matches even when falling behind, as he has done repeatedly at the US Open.

No opponent, or the prospect of what's at stake, has been too much to handle. Not yet, anyway.

And now he's two wins away from the first calendar-year grand slam in men's tennis in 52 years, along with a men's-record 21st major championship overall.

Djokovic 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 to defeat Matteo Berrettini 5-7 6-2 6-2 6-3 in a quarter-final that began Wednesday night and concluded after midnight on Thursday.

During his on-court interview, Djokovic cut off a question, sensing where it was headed, and said: "Do not ask me anything about history. I know it's there."

After 17 unforced errors in a first set that took one hour and 17 minutes, Djokovic made a total of 11 the rest of the way.

"The best three sets I've played in the tournament, for sure," he said.

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

He let the Italian sixth seed put a backhand into the net, then conjured up an 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.

"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 is 26-0 in major tournaments this season, including 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.

He beat Berrettini in the final at the All England Club.

Djokovic has added five victories on the US Open's hard courts and will face last year's runner-up Alexander Zverev on Friday.

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.

One more slam title also will break the men's record 20 mark Djokovic currently shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Fourth-seeded Zverev goes into his 10th showdown with Djokovic on a 16-match winning streak, including a 1-6 6-3 6-1 semi-final triumph against the world No.1 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."

Zverev, a 24-year-old German, advanced to the semi-finals in New York on Wednesday afternoon by beating Lloyd Harris 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 6-4.

Djokovic has a 6-3 head-to-head record over Zverev.

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