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Novak Djokovic has dropped the first set eight times in 25 Grand Slam matches this year... and rallied to win them all.

Djokovic Digs Deep To Fend Off Brooksby At US Open

World No. 1 to meet Berrettini in Wimbledon final rematch

Novak Djokovic needs just nine more sets to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam after surviving a physically draining early scare against #NextGenATP American Jenson Brooksby at the US Open on Monday night.

In a gruelling showdown under the lights, the top seed overcame a first-set wipe-out to deny the dogged No. 99 in the FedEx ATP Rankings 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in two hours and 58 minutes. Djokovic extended his unbeaten ATP Head2Head against Americans at their home Slam to 11-0 and his winning streak against Americans overall to 21.

In a rematch of the Wimbledon final, Djokovic will next meet sixth seed Matteo Berrettini. The Italian earlier defeated German qualifier Oscar Otte in four sets.

Having already been taken to four sets by Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune and Kei Nishikori this campaign, it was also the second time this event that he dropped the opening set and the eighth time in 25 Grand Slam matches this year he has done so and recovered to win. No other man in the Open Era has matched the feat.

Much to the home crowd’s approval, Brooksby bolted out of the blocks and had a bounce in his step as a drop shot secured a 3-0 lead. It set the tone for a lightning fast first set as an uncharacteristic errant Djokovic struggled to find his range.

“I must say that it wasn’t a great start for me, obviously. Jenson was pumped. He had a clear game plan, was executing well all the shots very efficiently,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “I was really on the back foot. I didn’t have the rhythm, made a lot of unforced errors and he was reading the play very well for about a set and a half.”

Brooksby – who was outside the Top 200 in the FedEx ATP Rankings less than four months ago – showed tremendous wheels throughout. His movement was on full display when he hustled for a string of extra shots before the Serbian finally dumped an overhead into the net in the closing game of the set.

The 20-year-old – already the youngest American to reach the fourth round in New York since a 20-year-old Andy Roddick in 2002 – threw up his arms as he secured the set after just 29 minutes. Djokovic had committed 11 unforced errors to his opponent’s one and knew a complete mental reset was imperative.

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It came immediately and with it, his first show of emotion as he broke for 2-0 in the second set. When he came out on top of a 23-shot rally a game later, the top seed again gestured to the crowd to make some noise in his favour.

As the match ticked over the one-hour mark, Brooksby brought Arthur Ashe Stadium alive again as he ripped a backhand pass down the line to bring up a break point at 1-3. In a nine-deuce 19-minute game, on his sixth break point opportunity, he finally secured the break back.

It was no momentum shift as Djokovic shook off the disappointment with another break and levelled the match after a 68-minute set. The Serbian pried open the match when he broke to open the third set and while both showed signs of a lull in intensity after a tough opening two sets, it was Djokovic who pulled clear with the third set in the bag after 48 minutes.

“I think the momentum changed midway through the second set, we played a couple of very long games. I lost my serve but I regrouped to re-break the next game and after that I started hitting more cleanly, hitting through the court,” Djokovic said. “Whenever I needed a serve I found my serve, I hit my spots well, but all in all it was a very physical battle, a lot of exhausting rallies. Credit to him for his performance tonight. It was fantastic.”

It prompted former champion Roddick to tweet just how difficult the challenge is of beating Djokovic at this level. “First he takes your legs… Then he takes your soul,” the American tweeted.

“Thanks Andy, I take that as a compliment – only the first part,” Djokovic said. “Tthe second part, I don’t take anybody’s soul. Everyone has their soul, we’re all beautiful souls so I appreciate everyone. But I’ll take your legs out, that’s for sure.”

After treatment on his left hamstring, there was no reprieve for Brooksby. His second double fault of the match proved costly as it surrendered his opening serve of the fourth set.

Djokovic sensed the double break opportunity as he scrambled to keep the point alive at 4-2. When Brooksby missed the subsequent overhead it brought up break point and Djokovic raised his arm triumphant to all corners. He landed the 5-2 advantage and quickly held to love to secure his passage into the quarter-finals, but his opponent had done enough to signal his future potential.

“He’s so crafty from the back of the court and he’s a very intelligent player and he’s only 20,” Djokovic said. “There’s a lot of time ahead of him. America has a bright future in tennis, that’s for sure.”

- Editor's Note: This story was update to correctly state that it was the second time (not third) this tournament that Djokovic had rallied from a set down to win.

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