Novak Djokovic survives scare at US Open to keep calendar-year Grand Slam bid alive
The world No1 played what he described as his best tennis at Flushing Meadows this year as he roared back from a set down to the beat the big-hitting Italian Matteo Berrettini 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in three hours and 26 minutes.
Djokovic has already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon crowns in 2021, and now faces the man who denied him a shot at the golden slam by beating him at the Olympics.
Zverev reached the semi-finals as he extended his winning run to 16 matches with a 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over South African Lloyd Harris.
If Djokovic defeats the German and win the final, it will be his 21st career Grand Slam title — a record in the men’s game — and he will be only the fifth person in men’s or women’s singles to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam.
The Serb is well aware of the size of the challenge and said: "He (Zverev) is in tremendous form, he's been winning a lot. He has comfortably moved to the semi-finals here.
"I know his game well, we played in Tokyo. He's one of the best players in the world, but the bigger the challenge the more glory in overcoming it.
"This was a great match, with a lot of energy on and off the court. Matteo is a terrific player and every time we face each other it's a close battle.
"When I lost the first set I managed to forget about it and move on. I was locked in at the start of the second and it was the best three sets I've played so far."
Wednesday night’s contest, a repeat of the Wimbledon Final, was the 26th consecutive victory at a major for Djokovic and came on the 52nd anniversary of Rod Laver becoming the last man to win all four Grand Slam events in the same year.
But it was far from plain sailing in a brutal 77-minute first set in which both players put each other's serve under intense scrutiny.
Berrettini made the breakthrough for 6-5 with a sweeping cross-court forehand and although the Italian squandered three set points, an ace and a wide Djokovic forehand eventually proved decisive.
However, once Djokovic drew first blood in the second and made just three unforced errors to confidently level the match, Berrettini looked beaten and the result was no longer in doubt.
Fourth seed Zverev was a runner-up at the US Open last year, and goes into his semi-final buoyed by his success over Djokovic in Tokyo.
"I mean, it's the biggest tournament in the world. It's the Olympics," he said.
"Winning there against the world number one, especially as 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.
"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."