By now, everyone should be aware that Novak Djokovic should never be written off. regardless of the size of the disadvantage he has. Regardless of how poorly he may be playing.
It was therefore expected that Djokovic would overcome a two-set deficit to defeat Laslo Djere in the third round of the US Open, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, avoiding what would have been his earliest exit there since 2006.
“Of course, winning a match is always better than losing a match. It’s as simple as that,” said Djokovic, who next faces Borna Gojo, a 25-year-old qualifier from Croatia making his US Open debut. “I think the message is sent to the rest of the field that I’m still able to play five sets deep at night, and coming from two sets down always sends a strong message to the future opponents.
“But at the same time, I’m not really wanting to be in this position, to be honest. I prefer a straight-set win. So hopefully I can get back on that track in the next match.”
This one started on Friday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium under the lights and ended shortly after 1:30 in the morning, more than three and a half hours later.
Djokovic had won eight times in his career after losing the first two sets of a match. Djokovic had a 1-6 record at the US Open before Friday, with his lone victory coming against Roger Federer in the 2011 semifinal.
Djokovic quickly had the upper hand and never let Djere regain it. Djokovic handled the pressure of a fifth set with composure, scoring 12 of the first 14 points to make it clear how this would go.
Djokovic, who increased his career record to 38-11 in five-set matches, has won three of his men’s record 23 Grand Slam titles at Flushing Meadows and finished half a dozen times in second place, including in 2021. The 36-year-old Serbian was unable to participate in the US Open last year because he was unable to enter the country as a foreigner without having received the COVID-19 vaccination; this restriction was overturned in May.
He is ranked No. 2 in New York behind Carlos Alcaraz, and almost everyone anticipates that they will face off on September 10 for the championship. Djere, a 28-year-old Serbian who was seeded 32nd, looks as though he might put an end to that.
“Trust me,” Djokovic said, “it was nerve-racking all the way until the last shot.”
This would have been Djere’s most significant triumph to date. He entered Friday with a 0-6 record at majors against opponents rated in the top 10 and was attempting to advance to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
Maybe there wasn’t the intimidation aspect that Djokovic benefits from in most matches. They have been working out together, spending time as Davis Cup teammates, and competing on tour as a doubles combo, so they have known each other for a long time.
When it was over, they hugged at the net and Djokovic cheered as Djere left the court.
Djere made an impact while it was only about 65 degrees outside. When the baseline exchanges were the longest, he was outlasting Djokovic.
“Everything was kind of in his striking zone,” Djokovic said. “It was very hard for me to find a solution.”
Djere won 28 of the 44 points that lasted five strokes or more throughout the course of the opening two sets. Djokovic had somewhat shaky feet. He also lost possession of the ball. After certain misses, he would raise his arms, and after others, he would frown.
The match had been going Djere’s way for one hour and 33 minutes until Djokovic halfheartedly pushed a forehand return long to conclude the second set.
In order to change his clothes between sets, Djokovic did as he frequently does when trailing. Additionally, as he frequently does, Djokovic emerged as a different player.
“I did a little pep talk in the mirror. I kind of laughed at myself, because I was so … agitated,” Djokovic said. “I forced myself to … lift the spirits.”
In the third set, he finally broke for the first time all night to take a 2-0 lead, earning a 27-stroke point when Djere gave up by forehanding into the net.
To request a standing ovation from the audience, Djokovic waved his hands and flapped his arms. That performance would end in an instant.
“Once I got the break in the third, I thought, ‘OK. I have a shot. I have a chance. I might as well go after it,'” he said.
Djokovic broke to start the fourth and used his well-known defensive strategies to drag out a point till he won it with a forehand as Djere lost balance.
Djokovic shouted and twice punched the air as he turned to face his coach Goran Ivanisevic and the rest of his group in the stands.
Later in the set, Djokovic went so far to his right to stretch a point that he was wide of the doubles alley; Djere missed a forehand probably because he wasn’t expecting the ball to come back at him.
That fit into a trend that will continue over the final stretch. Sent a message.