10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Ricky’s Preview and Pick for the U.S. Open Tennis Semifinal Between Djokovic and Zverev

Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a return to Matteo Berrettini of Italy during their quarterfinals round match on the tenth day of the US Open. EPA-EFE/JASON SZENES

By Ricky Dimon

Novak Djokovic’s bid for the calendar-year Grand Slam continues with a familiar foe in Alexander Zverev during semifinal action on Friday at the U.S. Open. It was Zverev who ended Djokovic’s hopes for the golden slam at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ricky previews the match and makes his prediction.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (4) Alexander Zverev

Djokovic and Zverev will be facing each other for the second time this summer, the fourth time in 2021, and the 10th time overall. The head-to-head series stands at 6-3 in favor of the Serb, who prevailed 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-5 at the ATP Cup and 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6) in the Australian Open quarters before falling to the German 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the semis of the Tokyo Olympics.

As those scorelines suggest, winning the first set hasn’t been necessary in their matchups. And it certainly hasn’t been a requirement for Djokovic throughout this U.S. Open. In fact, the 34-year-old has dropped the opening set in three of five matches and he has won in straight sets just a single time. Nonetheless, Djokovic has still battled past Holger Rune, Tallon Griekspoor, Kei Nishikori, Jenson Brooksby, and Matteo Berrettini without getting pushed to five at any point.

Zverev was in even more dominant form en route to the semis. The 2020 U.S. Open runner-up surrendered only one set in total while storming past Sam Querrey, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Jack Sock, Jannik Sinner, and Lloyd Harris. Zverev has won 16 matches in a row, a stretch that is also highlighted by Olympic gold and the Cincinnati title.

Still, the world No. 4’s last three performances were not overly convincing. Sock took a set and both Sinner and Harris had plenty of chances to do the same. Zverev will have to be better on Friday.

“You have to be perfect (against Djokovic),” the 24-year-old assured, “otherwise you will not win. Most of the time you can’t be perfect; that’s why most of the time people lose to him. Against him, you have to win the match yourself. You have to be the one that is dominating the points. You have to do it with very little unforced errors.

“He is the best player in the world. He is very difficult to beat.”

Djokovic is especially difficult to beat in best-of-five situations, and it has become an even tougher test now that the 20-time major champion’s motivation level is at an all-time high as history looms.

“Of course I’m aware of the history,” he said. “Of course it gives me motivation. I’m in a position that is very unique; I’m very grateful for that. I’m inspired to play my best tennis.

“I think the experience of being on the big stage so many times does help. Physically I feel as fit as anybody out there, so I can go the distance. Actually I like to go the distance. The longer the match goes, I feel like I don’t have any issues. I think I have a better chance than any other opponent. Of course I want to start off well and win in straight sets; don’t get me wrong. But sometimes it happens that you go through ups and downs during the match, particularly when you play against the best players in the world in the latter stages of Grand Slams.

“I’m going to be ready to go five sets, five hours, whatever it takes. That’s why I’m here.”

Chances are good that Djokovic will still be here–and history will still be in play–on championship Sunday.

Pick: Djokovic in 4

Ricky contributes to
 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.