Novak Djokovic, on cusp of Grand Slam, echos Kobe Bryant heading into US Open final

NEW YORK -- Novak Djokovic will complete the first calendar year Grand Slam for a male since 1969. He is heading to the US Open final. Everyone else will be able to recall one pivotal and memorable game.
It was at the end of the third set, which eventually turned into a 4-6. 6-2. 6-4. 4-6. 6-2 win over Alexander Zverev, Tokyo Olympics gold medalist, in Flushing Meadows on Friday night. This made Djokovic 27-0 at major championships this year.

Beat No. Djokovic will be able to achieve two important milestones by beating No. 2 Daniil Medvedev Sunday. Djokovic would also be able to add the 2021 US Open Trophy to the ones he has won at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in July. The 34-year-old Serbian would win his 21st Slam title, breaking the men’s career record he shares with Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic doesn't want to celebrate just yet. Djokovic said that Kobe Bryant's famous quote after the Los Angeles Lakers won 2-0 series in 2009 NBA Finals was helping him keep things in perspective for Sunday's final.

"It was his famous interview in which he said, "Why should I be happy now?" Djokovic stated that job is not over. He's someone that millions of people, including athletes, around the globe, look up to and admire. That's the kind of attitude I have. It's not over. There is excitement. Without a doubt, motivation is everywhere. Most likely, more than ever. "But I still have one more thing to do."

The crucial match against Zverev was a long one, with many extended exchanges. Djokovic lost a 53-shot point on Zverev's forehand win. Zverev hunched down on his knees, as the 21,139 spectators at Arthur Ashe Stadium rose in unison on a crisp, cool evening.

However, that was not the most important outcome. Djokovic is a formidable player, particularly on the most prestigious stages of his sport. Zverev was beaten by Djokovic's excellent returning and never-take a-rest defense.

Djokovic did lose that point, which was preceded and followed by 13 shots, 22 and 31 shots and a 16-shot game. But he won the game and the set. He lost the first set 1 hour earlier, but with help from Zverev's dip in level, he turned the tables around. Just as in the first set, Djokovic lost the second, but he quickly rebounded, and was almost untouchable, while he led 5-0 in the fifth.

Djokovic has spent more weeks at No. Djokovic, who has spent more weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings then anyone else, works out what it takes to be on top. He won in each of his four previous matches, and in 10 at the Slams overall.

Federer was equaled by Djokovic on Friday, who reached a 31st career Slam final. Djokovic now has a record number of nine matches in New York.

It will be No. It will be No. 3 for Medvedev (a 25-year old Russian player who defeated 12th-seeded Felix Auger Aliassime of Canada 6-4 7-5, 6-2 in afternoon). Medvedev was defeated in the Australian Open final by Djokovic and Nadal in 2019 US Open final.

Medvedev said that the more you lose something, you will want it back. Medvedev said that the more you want it, the more you will take it," he has only lost one set in the past two weeks. "I lost two finals. "I want to win the third one."

Djokovic wants to be 4-for-4 at majors in one season. This is something Rod Laver did 52 years ago in men's tennis. Laver did it in 1962, and Don Budge in 1938. This is what's known to be a true Grand Slam. It has been completed by three women, including Steffi Graf in 1988. Serena Williams' 2015 attempt at the US Open ended in defeat to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals.

"There is only one match remaining. ... All in. Let's go,'' Djokovic stated while spreading his arms in an interview on court. "I'm going put my heart, my soul, my body and head into that match. "I'm going treat the next match as the last match in my career."

Friday night's semifinal started with the 81-year old Laver looking over Djokovic's shoulders, seated in front of a baseline in Ashe's President's Box.

Zverev was a year away from his first major in New York. He took a two-set lead, got two points and was one set away from the championship. But Zverev lost it all in a tiebreaker and lost to Dominic Thiem in the fifth-set.

Zverev entered Friday with a 16-match winning streak. This includes beating Djokovic in July's Olympics semifinals. Djokovic's win was in the best-of-3 sets format. In matches that last five sets, he is now 36-10.

Djokovic was known for occasionally hitting his legs with his racket or rubbing his lower back with his left arm. However, regardless of what the outside signs might suggest, his racket is steady and he doesn't stress. He waits for the other guy not to slip.

It's like a hurricane, a tornado of emotions that you are going through in a sequence or one point. There is no escape from being on your own in court. Djokovic stated that you have to find a way. "I think that I have developed a formula that works over the years."

Sure does.

After his 3 hour loss Zverev stated that he would prefer to play against anyone but him.

Six games and twenty minutes into the match against Zverev, it was all about Zverev. This was thanks to a 24-stroke point in which Djokovic attempted a drop shot. Zverev responded at an almost impossible angle, and Djokovic, running wide from the doubles alley, stretched to retrieve it, his sneakers creaking, came up with a winner.

The crowd was wild. Zverev raised one hand to his right and wailed, "Louder!" Ten minutes later, Djokovic had committed two errors and Zverev had three forehands missed. He was now in a 5-4-5 hole. Zverev, a German 24-year-old with a game built around power, served that set with the help aces at 128mph and 132mph. On the last point, Djokovic hit a serve at 128mph which Djokovic missed off his frame and sent the ball into the seats.

Zverev made 13 unforced errors in the second set, moving from six in the first set to 13. The match was even. Djokovic's loose play and Zverev's backhand passing win created two break points in the third. Djokovic saved them by holding to 3-2 with a forehand which clipped the baseline.

Zverev placed his hand on Zverev's hip and argued that the ball was out. However, there is no recourse at this year's US Open: All decisions are made electronically via line-calling, so they can't be challenged. There are no line judges with which to dispute or question.

There were none last year. Djokovic was eliminated from Flushing Meadows when the ball he hit following a losing game accidentally struck a line judge's throat. Djokovic lost the final to Nadal at the next major tournament, which was delayed by a pandemic.

Djokovic has not lost a Grand Slam match since then.

Zverev stated that Djokovic's pursuit was "great for the sport." "It was impossible to believe that anyone would do it again. ... I believe he will.

This story used information from the Associated Press.