Novak Djokovic didn’t try to keep his thoughts to himself on court on Saturday, as he did most of the time in his first two US Open games. Instead, he let it all go, slapping his chest or snickering with a raised fist to celebrate the success, pointing his ear to ask for noise from the crowd.
It was the Djokovic that everyone is so used to seeing – yes, winning on the Grand Slam stage, of course, as he always does in this magical season, but also lively and in it, encouraging spectators to Join him for the ride on his way to the history of tennis.
Going one step further in his attempt to complete the first ever one-man Slam in over half a century, Djokovic advanced to the fourth round at Flushing Meadows for the 14th consecutive appearance, returning to beat Kei Nishikori 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.
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“I don’t plan on having these kinds of emotional moments on the pitch, whether good or bad. It just happens,” said Djokovic. “In the heat of the moment, when you feel like the moment is very important… you just want to get those things out of yourself, out of your system – try, I guess, to ride that wave of energy that you are creating. , whether with yourself, whether with the crowd. “
Djokovic, a 34-year-old Serbian ranked No.1, is now 24-0 in the sport’s four most important events this season, having won the Australian Open in February, the French Open in June and Wimbledon in July. The last man to go 4 for 4 in the majors was Rod Laver in 1969; Steffi Graf was the last woman, in 1988.
Winning four more games next week, and Djokovic would also win his 21st career Slam trophy, beating the men’s mark he currently shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“I wouldn’t be completely honest if I told you that I don’t think or believe or visualize that I can win every Grand Slam I play in,” Djokovic said. “I’m not surprised when I win Slams and big tournaments because that’s always a goal.”
It was in the fourth round last year that Djokovic’s US Open ended, flawed at the end of the first set for hitting a ball after giving up a match and inadvertently hitting a linesman at the throat.
Now he will face 20-year-old American player Jenson Brooksby or 21st-seeded Aslan Karatsev, Australian Open semi-finalist this year.
Other players who advanced on a sunny Saturday included Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini and No.13 Jannik Sinner – they gave Italy a pair of men in the US Open fourth round for the first. times in the event’s 140-year history – as well as Olympic women gold medalist Belinda Bencic, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek, double major finalist Karolina Pliskova and 18-year-old Briton Emma Raducanu.
No.1 Ash Barty and Tokyo Games men’s champion Alexander Zverev were scheduled to play in the night session.
After knocking out a few inexperienced opponents ranked 121st and 145th, Djokovic faced someone with a much better resume at Nishikori, who was the 2014 US Open finalist and reached No.4.
Here, however, was the problem for Nishikori ahead of this meeting: he had lost his last 16 games against Djokovic. And while Nishikori, roaring loudly from the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, stole the first set, the march to No.17 in a row was soon underway.
“I don’t think I started very well. I was quite passive. I was too far down the court. He was dictating the game,” said Djokovic. “He played a lot faster and more aggressive than my opponents in the opening rounds.”
A key statistic: Djokovic made 20 unforced errors in the first set, then reduced it to an average of 10 1/2 per set over the last three.
Here’s more: Djokovic came up with 15 aces.
“I couldn’t break the wall,” Nishikori said. “He’s very hard until the end.”
And Djokovic happily responded to the vital moments, prompting similar displays from fans, who were excluded from the tournament in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The crowd was involved. It was loud. It was nice,” Djokovic said. “I blossomed on it.”
When he broke to lead 2-1 in the second set winning a fantastic point that ended with both men close to the net, he turned and screamed, his mouth open. In his guest box, his wife, Jelena, stood up and shouted, “Come on! When Djokovic saved a break point in the third set, he indicated he wanted louder cheers by grabbing his right ear and then wiggling his fingers. When he broke to go up 5-3, he pursed his lips to say, “Ooh!” In the next game, he reacted to a drop shot at the net by slapping himself on the head three times with his racquet, then yelled first from one side of the stands and then from another, when he called out. this set.
Djokovic described his improved playing as the match progressed, spanning over 3.5 hours, as “get that groove back and get that beat”.
In other words, he might be hitting his stride.
“Maybe,” Nishikori said, “he feels that inside – a lot of pressure – but I couldn’t see it during the game.”