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U.S. Open: Moving on, Novak Djokovic edges closer to Grand Slam milestone

Novak Djokovic hits a backhand against Matteo Berrettini

Novak Djokovic hits a backhand against Matteo Berrettini in the first set during their quarterfinals match during the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Novak Djokovic moved one game closer to his date with history with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win over Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, which ended early Thursday morning.

Djokovic now needs to just win two more matches in order to make a claim -- at least on paper -- that he is the best men’s tennis player in history.

A championship here would give Djokovic his 21st Grand Slam title, pulling him ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Right now, all three players have won 20 Grand Slams.

A title would also give Djokovic a rare calendar Grand Slam, something neither Federer or Nadal have been able to do. The last player to accomplish the feat was Steffi Graf back in 1988. The last man to do it was Rod Laver in 1969.

Djokovic has now won 26 straight matches in the majors with his last loss coming in the final of the 2020 French Open.

Next up for Djokovic is No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in the semifinals on Friday. It was Zverev who beat Djokovic in the Olympics this year, keeping him from completing a golden Grand Slam.

Djokovic and Berrentini were two opponents who know each other well as this was the third consecutive major this year where they have met.

Berrettini, who has a career record of 3-0 against Novak, took him to four sets before losing in the fourth round of the French Open.

Berrettini then got to be a sidenote in history at Wimbledon when Novak tied Federer and Nadal by winning his 20th Grand Slam at Wimbledon with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over the Italian in the tournament’s final.

Berrettini, ranked sixth in the world, was the first seeded player Djokovic has played this tournament and he knew it was going to be a challenge.

"He has one of the best serves in the game," Djokovic said on the court after the win. "That’s why they call him the hammer. When I lost the first set I tried to forget about it and move on. I was locked in and put my tennis to a different level."

The hammer hammered home the message that he was playing to be the spoiler when he won the 77-minute opening set. Berrettini got the break in the 11th game, taking a 6-5 lead on a forehand passing shot. He then jumped out to a 40-love lead but failed to capitalize on three set points. He converts on his fourth set point when Djokovic sends a forehand long and wide.

Djokovic quickly gathered himself and took a 3-1 lead in the second set, getting the break in the fourth game when he forced Berrettini into an error with a sharp backhand. As the set wore on, Berrettini started looking gassed. Djokovic took advantage and breaks him again it the final game of the set after Berrettini hits a backhand into the net.

It was all downhill from there for an exhausted looking Berrettini who was worn down by Djokovic’s relentless returns.

Djokovic seemed to win over the U.S. Open crowd, which earlier in the tournament had been more supportive of his unranked opponents. By the end of the match, most people at Arthur Ashe seemed to appreciate that they were watching history unfold.

Djokovic didn’t want to talk about it, however.

Said Djokovic: "I know what’s there. But I’m just looking at the next match."

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