N.Y.C. — Matteo Berrettini is aware better than anyone that a set victory over Novak Djokovic means very little.
Berrettini lost to Djokovic in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Wednesday, despite having firsthand experience of the Wimbledon final, in which even a minor setback opened the door for a Djokovic onslaught. Period. He was powerless to halt the course of history.
Djokovic’s path to a possible calendar Grand Slam has been impeded this year by Berrettini, the eighth-ranked player in the world, who is worthy enough to be noticed but easy to navigate around. Djokovic had some difficulty against the hard-hitting Italian for the third consecutive major, but he prevailed in the end, winning 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Djokovic proclaimed the second, third, and fourth sets to be the “best three sets I’ve played” in the competition thus far. “Hopefully, I’ve improved to a higher level of tennis play. After losing the first set, I just switched gears and played at a higher level for the remainder of the match. That really boosts my spirits and gives me a lot of assurance.”
With this victory, Djokovic advances to the semifinals and moves within two wins of tying Rod Laver’s record of four Slam titles in a single year (1969) and of claiming the all-time major record of 21, which is now shared with his contemporaries Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Alexander Zverev, a 24-year-old German who came within two points of winning the U.S. Open a year ago and who upset Djokovic this summer in the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics, awaits him in the final four.
On Wednesday, Zverev advanced to the semifinals with a straight sets victory over Lloyd Harris of South Africa. “Against him you know that you have to play the greatest match that you can,” he said. The only way to succeed is to achieve absolute perfection. It’s nearly impossible to always do everything perfectly. It’s because of this that most people lose when they face him.
For 1 hour and 17 minutes, Berrettini was nearly flawless, giving himself a chance with his powerful serve and forehand. Berrettini won the opening set after forcing four unforced errors from Djokovic in a tense service game after breaking at 5-5 with a scorching cross-court passing shot.
As Berrettini won the opening set of the Wimbledon final in a tiebreaker, Djokovic found himself trailing for the third straight match at this tournament and the ninth time this year in the Grand Slams. But in every one of those encounters, Djokovic has raised his game right away and figured out a way to break down his opponent, following a pattern that has become all too familiar.
Berrettini claimed, “I was feeling good, playing excellent.” “Simply put, he always manages to raise the bar for himself, which is likely why he is the greatest of all time. No matter how brilliantly I play, he always manages to outperform me. He begins to improve his service once more. The rest of us couldn’t muster the same amount of bravery that he did. He merited the victory.”