Die Hard: Why 'Flawless' Djokovic Dominates The Majors
Update: On Friday night Novak Djokovic dropped the first set against Alexander Zverev before defeating the German in five sets in the US Open semi-finals to mark his 10th victory this year at the majors after losing the first set.
Nine times during his quest to complete the Grand Slam this year Novak Djokovic has dropped the first set. And nine times he has rallied to win. It’s a statistic without precedent in Grand Slam history, but it hasn’t been achieved through happenstance.
After dropping a gruelling 78-minute first set against Matteo Berrettini in their late-night quarter-final at Flushing Meadows Wednesday, there was no panic in the Djokovic camp. There was no sense that the finish line looked a deflating distance away.
The Serbian knows that he is perhaps the fittest and most finely tuned athlete in the history of the sport. And so do his opponents. He’s the best player in the world, but the best-of-five format at the majors amplifies his dominance and is a key reason why he’s won eight of the past 12 Slams. Like a casino, the longer someone plays, the greater the odds tilt towards the house.
US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2021
“I know what my strengths are. I stick to them,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference after beating Berrettini. “I've worked over the years to perfect my game so that my game can have literally no flaws. Every player has some weaknesses in his game.
“There's always something you can improve. I want to have as complete of an all-around game as I possibly can so that when I'm playing someone I can adjust on any surface, I can come up with different styles of play, I can tactically implement the game that I need for that particular match in order to win.”
Djokovic has won 25 of his past 26 Grand Slam matches decided in four or five sets (with the only blemish being a 7-5 fifth-set loss to Dominic Thiem in the 2019 Roland Garros semi-finals). That’s not something lost on his opponents, especially when they struggle to build on early success they may have earned in a match.
“I want my opponents to feel that I can get any ball, that I can play comfortably from the back of the court, on the net, serving, returning,” Djokovic said. “Over the years working on perfecting the game has really helped me I think just be very adaptable to anybody's game and to any surface.
“My kind of constitution of the body, I guess my work on the court and also fitness-wise, has always been based on equally paying attention to every aspect of my physical abilities, whether it's strength, flexibility, agility, speed. I always want to have everything on a satisfying level so that I could always come up with the element I need in that particular moment.”
As Alexander Zverev looks to take the confidence of his 16-match winning streak and Olympics victory over Djokovic into Friday’s semi-finals, he’ll also be mindful of their Australian Open meeting in February. After Djokovic dropped the first set, he fought back to win 7-6 in the fourth. That was the first of his nine victories coming from a set down this year at the majors.
Djokovic's Record When Losing 1st Set At Majors
* Includes Djokovic's victory over Zverev in the US Open semi-finals.
- With statistical assistance from Greg Sharko