Two more wins, Two more matches . Those are the only remaining obstacles separating Novak Djokovic from becoming the first male player to win the calendar-year grand slam since Rod Laver in 1969 while also winning his 21st grand slam title, breaking his tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But along the road, standing before him are the most difficult tasks to come. On Friday he will face the surging Alexander Zverev in the semi-final, and if he wins possibly Daniil Medvedev, the second seed, in the final.
Over the course of the summer, Zverev, the fourth seed, has come to represent the biggest source of affliction in Djokovic’s historic season.
Just over a month ago, the Serbian was seemingly powering towards his elusive Olympic gold medal and he led Zverev 6-1, 3-2 in the semi-final with a break of serve.
But then, in a flash, it was gone. He lost 10 of the next 11 games and after starting the match with a 22-match winning streak, he lost three matches, two each in singles and one in mixed doubles, within 24 hours, as well as pulling out of the mixed doubles bronze-medal match and leaving Japan in empty-handed.
He left Tokyo exhausted. “I played great, great tennis. Then unfortunately [my] game fell apart. It happens,” he said on Wednesday about the loss against Zverev, after his four-set win over Matteo Berrettini.
Zverev came from behind to beat Djokovic 1-6 6-3 6-1 at Tokyo 2020, going on to take the gold medal with victory over Russia’s Karen Khachanov in the final for the biggest title of his career.
The 24-year-old is still seeking a maiden Grand Slam title, though, having lost in the final here last year to Dominic Thiem, but having beaten Djokovic on one big stage this year he has his sights on doing the same once more.
“This year it seems like nobody can beat him [Djokovic] in a big match, nobody can beat him at the Grand Slams,” said Zverev, who is on a winning run of 16 matches.
“I feel like I was the first player to beat him in a very big match this year. That does give you something.”