NEW YORK — Just one more.
That’s all Novak Djokovic needs at this U.S. Open to complete one of the rarest achievements in all of sports. That’s all he needs to rewrite tennis history in a manner that is uniquely his. That’s all he needs to win the Grand Slam.
On a night where he was once again tested and pushed to the brink by a rival from the younger generation, Djokovic played all his old hits in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 semifinal victory over No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev.
And now, if he can do it one more time on Sunday at Arthur Ashe Stadium against No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, he’ll have a peerless 21st major title and the distinction of being the first man to win tennis’ four most important tournaments in the same calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.
For Djokovic, the victory over Zverev provided both his greatest test of this tournament and likely one of his most satisfying. Just a month ago at the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev came from a set and a break down to stun Djokovic and deny him the gold medal he had long sought to add to his collection.
It looked like a similar heartbreak for Djokovic might be in the offing when Zverev took the fourth set, stood toe-to-toe with him on the long baseline rallies that Djokovic so often wins and even pushed him around at times with his power off the ground.
But Djokovic, as he so often does, raised his level yet again in the fifth set, applied pressure to every part of Zverev’s game and ultimately found a way to crack him. After breaking in Zverev’s first service game of the fifth set, Djokovic got a second one when Zverev botched a routine overhead on break point.
Just like that, danger was swept to the side.
Djokovic is now 36-10 in five-set matches in his career, including a memorable French Open final earlier this year when he came from two sets to love down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Zverev, like Tsitsipas, leads a generation of players in their early 20s who have been continually stymied at the Grand Slam events by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic. With two of those three fading out of the biggest events in 2021 due to age and injury, Djokovic has been the lone gatekeeper. And still, he’s yielded nothing on his rampage toward history.
Now Medvedev, who has lost one Grand Slam final each to Nadal and Djokovic, gets another shot. But as Djokovic proved yet again Friday, it’s going to practically require perfection to stop him.
Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken