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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 5, 2023


Novak Djokovic saved 10 of 12 break points topping Taylor Fritz 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to reach a record 47th major semifinal at the US Open.

Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA/US Open

NEW YORK—Don’t let the benevolent smile and crowd-pleasing performances fool you.

A determined Novak Djokovic arrived in New York with one mission statement and visions of attaining a majestic major peak.

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Today, Djokovic took another significant step continuing a celebrated climb.

Maintaining his career-long mastery of Taylor Fritz, Djokovic denied 10 of 12 break points dismissing the American No. 1 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to drive into the US Open semifinals.

It is Djokovic’s 47th career Grand Slam semifinal—putting him one ahead of rival Roger Federer for the all-time record—including his 13th final four appearance in Flushing Meadows.

"Today it was a great test to see how it feels being on the court, quarterfinals against a top American," Djokovic said. "Taylor has been playing some great tennis this tournament, I thought. But, you know, I was very determined. I knew, I had clarity on what I need to be doing on the court.

"Of course, you know, in the heat of a moment, you know, sometimes you want to use that energy to lift yourself up, and sometimes you just want to kind of cocoon yourself and really isolate the noise and focus on breathing and focus on the, you know, staying present and focusing on the next point. So it's really adapting to whatever circumstances have for you and whatever is required in that moment for you."

The three-time US Open champion exuded his appetite for the fight and his passion for party afterward.

Channeling his inner rap star, Djokovic paid tribute to New York City natives Beastie Boys leading the Arthur Ashe Stadium faithful in a chorus of “You gotta fight for your right to party.”

It’s been quite a one-sided celebration for Djokovic against Americans.

Leaving U.S. foes red, white and bruised, Djokovic defeated Fritz for the eighth time in as many meetings, scored his 30th consecutive victory against Americans since his last loss to power player turned pickleball player Sam Querrey at the 2016 Wimbledon and improved to 13-0 lifetime in US Open quarterfinal matches.

All of which makes the 36-year-old Serbian superstar a massive favorite in Friday’s semifinals against either 2022 semifinalist Frances Tiafoe or 20-year-old sensation Ben Shelton.

Continuing his quest to capture his 24th Grand Slam crown and match Margaret Court’s all-time major mark, Djokovic knows he will face an explosive American—and the festive Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd in the semifinals. Djokovic carries a 25-1 Grand Slam record on the season into the semifinal showdown.

“It’s expected people are backing the home player—nothing wrong with that,” Djokovic said afterward. “I like the energy and atmosphere on the center court here. People are getting into it.

“I actually thrive on that energy—whatever that energy is I try to use it as fuel to play my best tennis. I’ve been playing on this court so many epic matches I can’t wait until the next one in two days time.

“As the song went five minutes ago, you gotta fight for your right to party. You gotta fight for your right to party whoo One thing is for sure I’m gonna be enjoying that [Shelton vs. Tiafoe] match from my sofa with my physiotherapy and some popcorn and a nice drink.”

Entering his maiden US Open quarterfinal, Fritz was only broken once in 50 service games in the tournament sweeping all 12 sets he played.

Of course, none of his prior opponents bring the same accuracy, intensity and sniper return of the 36-year-old Serbian.

Though Fritz hit more winners (33 to 25) and earned more break points (12 to 9) than Djokovic, the second seed is the smoother mover, owns more options and played bigger points better and bolder at times.

Djokovic committed half as many unforced errors and struck with more conviction on the move scoring his 10th consecutive hard-court win to improve to to 25-1 on hard courts this season with his lone hard-court loss coming to Daniil Medvedev.

A stretching Djokovic stuck a stab backhand volley into the short court breaking for a 3-1 lead. Djokovic confirmed the break for 4-1.

The second seed broke again for a 5-1 lead and served out the opening set at 30.

Trying to flat-line his drives, Fritz found the net instead handing Djokovic the break and a 2-1 second-set lead.

Wrong-footing Fritz with a sharp crosscourt forehand winner, Djokovic caused the American to crash to the court. Fritz climbed off the blue court and earned a break point only to sail a backhand. Djokovic dabbed a drop shot confirming the break for a one-set, 3-1 lead after 68 minutes.

A sharp Djokovic drilled a 122 mph ace down the T—his fifth ace of the day—to snatch a two–set lead after 94 minutes.

The challenge for Fritz was finding ways to finish points against the 10-time Australian Open champion. Fritz hits the ball as cleanly as many elite players, the issue is he is not as quick around the court as Djokovic or reigning champion Carlos Alcaraz and as a result can come out second best in running rallies against those players. 

"I needed to do a lot better on my serve. I need to serve much better and not just give away so many loose points on my serve," Fritz said. "I feel like as far as returning goes, I can't actually ask for that much more. Forget about the first set, but the second and third, I was in a lot of return games. Got breaks both sets. Chances to get more than one break, like, you know, I can't ask for much more than that. If I could actually serve I think to the standards that I know I can serve to, then, you know, then maybe I could work with something, it would be a closer match.

"Obviously Novak being Novak, he'll make me feel like I'm serving, you know, worse than I am, but, in other matches I wouldn't get, I guess, as punished for missing so many first serves. I can maybe get away with it, but with him, I have to serve better than 50%, and I have to hit my spots better."

Today, Fritz fell to 0-11 vs. Top 10 opponents in Grand Slam play, but at least he went down swinging.

The 25-year-old American lifted his level in the third set, stepped into the court at times and was firing his groundstrokes with damaging intent.

Midway through the third set, Fritz earned double break point and was in prime position to break. The Delray Beach champion did not do enough damage with a mid-court forehand and Djokovic made him pay saving it. On the second break point, Djokovic curled a forehand right inside the sideline to save it.

The owner of 95 career titles staved off stress holding to level at 3-3 in the third and bellowing out a loud “come on!”

The crowd had been roaring anticipating a Fritz break, but a ruthless Djokovic silenced the Arthur Ashe Stadium faithful.

Tennis Express

After saving break points, Djokovic put the hammer down drawing a break point on a Fritz netted error. Driving the ball deep inside the baseline, Djokovic his fifth break for 4-3.

Two games from the finish line, Djokovic showed surprising signs of frustrations apparently gesturing at some fans near his box to leave. Mistakenly opting against playing a Fritz shot, a disgusted Djokovic saw it drop in. That mental miscue helped Fritz break to even the third set after eight games.

Sustaining positive play proved challenging for Fritz, who fell into a triple break point hole in the next game. Fritz missed a backhand down the line and sprayed a forehand down the line gifting the break right back to Djokovic, who edged ahead 5-4.

Eager to conserve his energy and move on in straight sets, Djokovic slid his seventh ace. A smash brought Djokovic to match point, but Fritz won a crosscourt backhand exchange to save it.

On his second match point, Djokovic closed when Fritz knocked a backhand into net.

The veins were visible in Djokovic’s neck as he unleashed a primal scream improving to 13-0 in US Open quarterfinals to charge into his 47th major semifinal.

Three-time US Open champion Djokovic raised his Flushing Meadows record to 86-13 moving one win away from a 10th trip to the US Open final.


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