Djokovic recovered from two-sets-to-love down for the eighth time in his career, clawing past his countryman 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 after three hours, 45 minutes.
“Unbelievable. It’s almost 2 a.m., a large number of people stayed,” Djokovic said when addressing the crowd. “I hope [the fans] enjoyed the show, it was definitely not so enjoyable for me, especially in the first two sets. It was one of the toughest matches I’ve played here in many years. Huge, huge credit to Laslo for playing some of the best tennis that I’ve ever seen him play.”
For the first 90 minutes of the match, Djere held the advantage in extended rallies as he produced fearless, heavy-hitting from the baseline and often hit behind Djokovic to put him off balance. The 95-time tour-level titlist regrouped, quickly raising his level in the third set as he drew errors from Djere’s forehand to pull the match back within reach.
“I did a little pep talk in the mirror. I kind of laughed at myself because I was so pissed off and annoyed with the result,” Djokovic said when asked about leaving the court following the opening two sets. “I had to force myself to lift myself up, lift the spirits up a little bit. I’ve done it a few times before in my career, it worked. A few times it didn’t work, but tonight it did and I’m grateful.”
The turning point came when Djokovic broke serve for the first time at 1-0 in the third set by winning an exciting 26-shot rally. The Serbian then lifted his hands in the air as if he were asking the New York crowd for more support.
Despite the lopsided score in the final three sets, Djere was still putting Djokovic to the test under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic earned a gut-punching break after a marathon 10-minute game at 1-1 in the fourth set, in which the 32nd seed had earlier struck a stunning one-hand backhand flick past the three-time US Open titlist.
Djokovic then earned more looks on return and found top-tier defence in the latter stages of the match, deflating Djere’s hopes of earning the biggest win of his career. When the clock hit 1:32 a.m., Djokovic booked his place in the fourth round after fending off a break point while serving for the match.
“If he was getting tired, it didn’t take away much from his game to be honest. I think he played better in the fifth than he probably did in the third and fourth because he just started swinging through the ball,” Djokovic said. “He was behind a break and he served very well. He was hitting his spots so well.
“It was very difficult for me to find a solution. He is a very complete player, all-around quality serve, return, forehand, backhand. So I didn’t have many options at the beginning but in the third, I kind of lifted myself up and the crowd got into it.
“Once I got the break in the third I thought, ‘Okay, I have a chance, I might as well go after it.’ I started to play a bit more aggressive, started to read his game slightly more than I had in the first two sets. It worked well but trust me, it was nerve racking all the way until the last shot.”
Djokovic’s Two-Set Comebacks
|’23 US Open||R3||Djere||46 46 61 61 63|
|’22 Wimbledon*||QF||Sinner||57 26 63 62 62|
|’21 R. Garros*||F||Tsitsipas||67 26 63 62 64|
|’21 R. Garros*||R4||Musetti||66 67 61 60 40 ret.|
|’15 Wimbledon*||R4||Anderson||67 67 61 64 75|
|’12 R. Garros||R4||Seppi||46 67 63 75 63|
|’11 US Open*||SF||Federer||67 46 63 62 75|
|’05 Wimbledon||R2||G-Lopez||36 36 76 76 64|
* Won title
Boasting a 41-5 match record this season, Djokovic improved to 2-0 in his Lexus ATP Head2Head series with Djere, whom he also beat last year at the ATP 250 event in Belgrade despite being two points from defeat.
Should the 36-year-old Djokovic claim his third major title of the season this fortnight, he will become the oldest men’s champion in US Open history (Open Era).
Djokovic will next meet Croatian qualifier Borna Gojo, who is unbroken this week. The 25-year-old defeated Czech Jiri Vesely 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday to reach his maiden major fourth round. Up 29 spots to No. 76 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, Gojo is guaranteed to crack the Top 100 for the first time following the season’s final major.
Source: ATP Tour