Novak Djokovic plays a return to Matteo Berrettini during the...

Novak Djokovic plays a return to Matteo Berrettini during the men's singles final on Day 13 of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London on July 11. Credit: AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Novak Djokovic arrives at the 2021 U.S. Open on the verge of glory, a far cry from his ignominious exit from the 2020 Open.

Having won this year’s Australian and French Opens, followed by the Wimbledon title, Djokovic can become only the third male player to win a calendar year Grand Slam if he comes up with the U.S. title. Rod Laver did it in 1962 and 1969, and Don Budge in 1938. Plus, an Open victory would be Djokovic’s 21st Grand Slam title, breaking the tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most ever.

When we last saw Djokovic in Flushing Meadows he was packing up his tennis bag and leaving Arthur Ashe Stadium after being defaulted when, in a fit of frustration, he swatted a ball that hit a woman line judge in the throat during a round-of-16 match against Pablo Carreño Busta. He issued deep apologies on social media.

Coincidentally he lost his cool against Busta in his bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, losing to him after throwing a couple of fits and a couple of rackets. In trying to win the Golden Slam by adding the Olympic gold (a feat achieved only by Steffi Graf in 1988), Djokovic had lost to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals. The stands were empty there, too.

"I don’t like doing these things," he said then. "I’m sorry for sending this kind of message but we’re all human beings and sometimes it’s difficult to control your emotions."

On Friday Djokovic was at the National Tennis Center looking fresh and relaxed, having not played since Tokyo.

"I know how big of an opportunity is in front of me here in New York where historically I've played really well over the years," Djokovic said. "It's probably the most entertaining tennis court that we have. Crowd will be back on stadium.

"I can't wait. Honestly I'm very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, as they say, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a slam here which would obviously complete the calendar slam."

It’s been a long journey for Djokovic to make it this far. It took him less that two hours to beat Daniil Medvedev, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, in the Australian final. It took him more than four hours at Roland Garros to beat 13-time French Open champ Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, 6-7 (6), 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, before again rallying from two sets down to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final, 6–7 (8), 2–6, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4. At Wimbledon he faced the young, tough Italian Matteo Berrettini who gave him a good tussle before losing 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

It was at Wimbledon that Djokovic tied Federer and Nadal for the all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles.

"They are, I think, the reason I am where I am today," he said then.

His performance at the French Open was key.

"I think Roland Garros is probably the one that is always probably the biggest hurdle for me. I won it the second time in my career this year," Djokovic said. "After I won the French, I thought, OK, I don't have a lot of time to prepare for Wimbledon, for grass, but I do feel more comfortable, and I like my chances more in Wimbledon than I probably do in Roland Garros.Yeah, that probably would be identified as the moment where I felt it could be possible."

Medvedev, highly praiseful of Djokovic on Friday, had this to say about stopping the Grand Slam run: "I want to say I'm going to try my best to keep it at 20 for all of them."

A BID FOR THE SLAM

Novak Djokovic could become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 (he also did it in 1962) to win all four tennis Majors in a calendar year. Don Budge in 1938 is the only other man to win all four majors in a single year. Steffi Graf in 1988 was the last woman to do it. Djokovic’s season:

AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Overwhelmed Daniil Medvedev, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, in less than two hours to clinch his 18th grand slam title.

FRENCH OPEN

Wins his 19th career Grand Slam title, rallying from two sets to love to defeat Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6–7 (8), 2–6, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4.

WIMBLEDON

His win over Matteo Berrettini of Italy, 6-7(4) 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, was his 20th grand slam singles title, tying him with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

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