Despite having the aforementioned advantage in the third and fourth sets, the sixth-ranked German—an Australian Open semifinalist and US Open finalist in 2020—lost 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (6).
If you only consider the Serbian’s victories during which he faced significant deficits, Djokovic would still amass a Hall of Fame career. And while this win isn’t on the same level as some of his more famed comebacks (his two semifinal stunners of Roger Federer at the 2010 and 2011 US Opens, when Djokovic saved match points, immediately come to mind), Djokovic’s ability to quickly recover cannot be overstated.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion moves on. (Getty Images)
After splitting the first two sets, Zverev's level rose across the board. His first serve was hitting high digits on the radar gun; his backhand was its lethal best; his court coverage was exceptional for a player his size. The only problem was, it gave Djokovic a new goal: overcome this increased threat. And as he's done so many times in Melbourne and around the world, he achieved it.
In the third set, Zverev not only led 3-0, but 4-1. At a time when "win probability" is a commonly cited statistic, Zverev was probably still the underdog against the world No. 1—though a two-sets-to-one lead would have flipped that. Djokovic never had to find out. It started, as it often does, with his return, helping negate some of Zverev's giant first serves. Then came the trademark defense. His regularity in consolidating service breaks added to the pressure Zverev was feeling, and the momentum Djokovic built.
I would have thought there was no better point Djokovic could play than at 4-4, 0-30 in the third set—it's a crying shame there were no fans in the stands to see and applaud it—but he manged to surpass it in the fourth set, after staging another rally from 0-3. Returning at 5-6, 30-0, Zverev held nothing back with a barrage of baseline swings. He took his lest, and perhaps best, shot with a running forehand dart.
Djokovic's stab winner off it was simply astonishing:
To his credit, Zverev responded by winning the next four points, earning himself a set point. Djokovic wiped it away, then did the same to Zverev himself, in a fourth-set tie-break.
More on this match to come from Steve Tignor.