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Novak Djokovic produces first US Open two-set comeback since 2011 semis win over Federer
The 23-time major champ overcame countryman Laslo Djere, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, at 1:32 a.m. Saturday.
Published Sep 02, 2023
There will be a Serbian in the second week of the men’s singles event at the US Open. For a hot minute Friday night, it looked like it might be Laslo Djere—not Novak Djokovic—flying the flag in the round of 16.
Djokovic would eventually find his rhythm and deflate his compatriot for a 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory on Arthur Ashe Stadium as the two clocked out at 1:32 a.m. Saturday.
“It was one of the toughest matches that I’ve played here in many years. Huge, huge credit to Laslo for playing some of the best tennis that I’ve ever seen him play,” Djokovic told Brad Gilbert afterwards.
It marked the second time in his career that Djokovic has rallied from two sets down at Flushing Meadows. The first was a career-changing moment when the Belgrade native denied Roger Federer in a courageous five-set rally that included saving a pair of match points on his way to the 2011 crown. He’s now 9-2 in US Open five-setters dating back to his main-draw debut in 2005 when he edged Gael Monfils.
Djere, who was looking to get beyond the third round of a major for the first time, came out blazing—consistently leaning into his forehand to set up and finish points. Perhaps taken aback by the initial level of play coming back his way, an error-prone Djokovic was unable to break the 28-year-old over the first two sets.
That all changed after the set break. Working the crowd, a reinvigorated Djokovic found an extra pep in his step and got his groundstrokes flowing to grab control. In the fourth set, his defensive flair and passion were on full display in trading three straight breaks. Djere’s missed chances to hold for 2-1 would ultimately come back to bite him, as Djokovic ran away from that tight juncture of the contest with steadier hitting, better serving and stronger legs to go on an eight-game run.
One final push from Djere saw Djokovic face a break point in the final game, but a 17-shot rally ended with the 32nd seed netting a backhand. Djokovic faced a second deuce, but held his nerve to serve out the encounter after three hours and 45 minutes, finishing with 34 winners and 36 unforced errors. Djere's execution tailed off over time to end with a -15 differential.
"I feel like I raised my level and was reading his game slightly better in the third, fourth and fifth than I have in the first two sets," Djokovic told press in the mixed zone. "I think I served well when I needed to, especially in the fifth. It was only one break. He had a break point to come back to the match. It was a nerve-wracking last game.
"Yeah, so relieved to get this one."
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The 36-year-old has advanced to the fourth round or better at his past 15 US Open appearances, going 44-0 in the first week of the New York major across that span. He remains undefeated against his fellow compatriots in a best-of-five environment.
Djokovic is looking to pick up his fourth US Open title and first since 2018. A victory in the next round would see the Belgrade native achieve a minimum of 85 match wins at every major.
For a place in the last eight, Djokovic meets Croatia’s Borna Gojo. The 105th-ranked qualifier, a former standout at Wake Forest University, extended his dream run with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jiri Vesely.