The seeding predicted correctly that world number one, Novak Djokovic would be facing Alexander Zverev in the top half semi-final. Possibly the most anticipated match in the tournament, this may be the ‘true’ final.
20 grand slams to his name, the 21st is just two steps away. Djokovic has said he doesn’t like to think about it. Nobody is under more pressure than Djokovic right now, but nobody is better equipped to deal with it. One of the best baseliners to ever touch the game. Hardcourt is his best surface, though he does seem to be better in the Australian Open than the US Open.
Djokovic’s year has been exceptional, all three grand slams, but only one minor tournament. He had a difficult Olympics, marred by injury, he failed to achieve a medal and vented his frustrations.
Djokovic is the only player in the final four who hasn’t played between the Olympics and now.
His US Open has been the least convincing of the three favourites, he’s dropped a set to everyone he’s played against, except Griekspoor. Holger Rune and Jenson Brooksby looked to be big threats to Djokovic, before both succumbing to fatigue. As Andy Roddick tweeted, “first he takes your legs, then he takes your soul.”
Despite looking in danger at times, Djokovic has done enough to win each of his matches, with his previous match being the toughest, beating Wimbledon Finalist Matteo Berrettini in four sets.
Zverev is part of the next generation and would dearly love to win a slam now, especially to beat one of the ‘big three.’ He came so close last year when Djokovic was defaulted, but lost the final match against Thiem to his nerves. Since then, winning the Olympics will have given him confidence, now it’s just a case of doing it on merit. Zverev is also an aggressive baseliner like Djokovic, with more power and a bigger serve.
Zverev’s hardcourt swing has been perfect, he started by winning the Olympics and beating Djokovic on the way. In the lead up to the US Open, he won the Cincinnati masters, the only event he entered.
In the US Open itself, Zverev has dropped one set the entire tournament, but didn’t have to play much of a fourth set, since Jack Sock retired, so there wasn’t much additional fatigue from that match. Apart from the Sock match, Zverev has looked imperious, crushing the opposition. His last match was a comfortable 3 sets against Lloyd Harris, Zverev will not have to worry about tiredness.
Of their nine encounters in the past, Djokovic has won six times to Zverev’s three. However, Zverev won their last battle 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, at the Olympics, which he went on to win.
Who will win?
Undoubtedly the toughest test for both players in this tournament, possibly harder than either potential final. We know Djokovic as a legend of tennis, but he’s far from unbeatable, he’s struggled more to get here and played more sets than Zverev this tournament. It may be a close battle, probably the longest match either player will play. Zverev seems to have the form and raw power, but Djokovic is the better player overall. This could go to five sets.
Main photos: Novak Djokovic during his quarterfinal match against Berrettini – Jed Jacobsohn/USTA, and Alexander Zverev during his quarterfinal match against Lloyd Harris – Darren Carroll/USTA