Coming into this U.S. Open, many viewed Alexander Zverev as the man most likely to end Novak Djokovic’s quest for the Grand Slam.
Zverev will be there waiting in Friday’s semifinals after a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-4 quarterfinal win over Lloyd Harris. The only question is whether Djokovic will get there to join the man who beat him at the Tokyo Olympics.
“Against him, you prepare that you have to play the best match that you can. You have to be perfect, otherwise you will not win,” Zverev said of Djokovic. “Most of the time, you can’t be perfect. That’s why, most of the time, people lose to him. Against him, you have to win the match yourself. You have to be the one that is dominating the points. You have to do it with very little unforced errors.
“He is the best player in the world. He is very difficult to beat. But he’s still also got to win [his quarterfinal]. … It’s going to be an interesting match to watch those two.”
Djokovic — aiming for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969 — is facing No. 6 Matteo Berrettini on Wednesday night. It’s a rematch of their Wimbledon final won by Djokovic in July. It may also just be preamble.
“I am going to watch it, like everybody else,” Zverev, 24, said. “I hope it goes for eight hours and 30 minutes.”
Zverev had no such draining worries, making quick work of his foe. It was his 16th consecutive match win — although he knew 17 could well be tougher, if it has to come against Djokovic.
Granted, Harris did break him in the first set to go ahead 5-3 and served for the set; but Zverev broke back. Then Harris got to set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but he missed a forehand and lost the next two points.
Zverev pulled out the tiebreaker, and his second serve just seemed to get stronger as the afternoon drew on. He led 3-0 in the second set and 4-0 in the last, closing it out on a 136 mph ace.
Next is the wait.
The Olympic gold medalist is 3-6 versus Djokovic, but has played three knock-down, drag-out matches with Djokovic this year, the last one a huge victory in Tokyo.
After Djokovic had to work for a 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-5 win in the ATP Cup and 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (6), escape in the Australian Open, Zverev turned the tables in the biggest moment of the year. The German rallied for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory in the Olympic semifinal, handing Djokovic his only big defeat of 2021.
“It’s the biggest tournament in the world, Tokyo. It’s the Olympics,” Zverev said. “Winning there against the world No. 1, especially that I was down a set and a break, being kind of out of the match, then coming back, it was different than the other matches. The emotions were different. Also securing a medal for Germany was very special to me.
“This year it seems like nobody can beat him in a big match, nobody can beat him at the Grand Slams. I feel like I was the first player to beat him in a very big match this year. That does give you something.”
Zverev reached last year’s U.S. Open Final, which he said he lost in a five-set tiebreaker “in front of exactly six people.” Right after the defeat, his ex-girlfriend accused him of domestic abuse, claims he has vehemently denied.