Novak Djokovic advanced to his eighth U.S. Open title match with Friday night’s fairly routine 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 semifinal romp over Kei Nishikori. And that’s no small potatoes.
In the open era, which dates to 1968, no man has appeared in more. Only two, Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, made it to eight. Sampras won five of those, Lendl three. On Sunday, Djokovic will go for his third U.S. trophy against Juan Martin del Potro, a man he has beaten in 14 of 18 career meetings.
It’s not as if Djokovic should be surprising anyone. His 13 major titles rank No. 4 behind the 20 by Roger Federer (whom Djokovic defeated in the 2015 Open final), 17 by Rafael Nadal (whom Djokovic beat in the 2011 Open final) and 14 by Sampras, whom Djokovic can tie Sunday.
Only Federer has played more Grand Slam semis than Djokovic in the open era — 43 to 33. Only Jimmy Connors played more U.S. semis in the Open era, 14 to 11.
“Felt great,” Djokovic said of Friday night’s match. “Don’t know how it looked.”
It looked easy. He saved the only two break points he presented to Nishikori and committed only 11 unforced errors to Nishikori’s 51.
“I thought I came in from the first point with great intensity and great focus,” Djokovic said. “He’s one of the quickest players on the tour and you have to make fast decisions.”
For the 21st-seeded Nishikori, who was runner-up in his only Slam final, the 2014 U.S. Open, the evaluation of Friday night’s match was simple: “Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I would have had a chance to play a little better.”
Djokovic entered this year’s Open seeded sixth but as the betting favorite on the heels of his Wimbledon title in July. He brought a 14-2 head-to-head record against Nishikori into the match. The wrist injury that forced Djokovic to skip Flushing Meadows last year led to surgery in February, and he said he just now is feeling fully recovered.
Yet here he is, in his 23rd major-tournament final. “The majors are the biggest event in tennis,” he said. “Every player wants to perform his best in the Grand Slams. Like thousands of other tennis players around the world, I’m trying to be the best I can be. Trying to reach certain heights that I visualize. I don’t see any limits or an end around the corner.”