Novak Djokovic earns chance at tennis history with gutsy five-set US Open semi-final win over Alexander Zverev

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·24 min read
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Novak Djokovic Alexander Zverev US Open 2021 live score latest updates - SHUTTERSTOCK
Novak Djokovic Alexander Zverev US Open 2021 live score latest updates - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Novak Djokovic is through to his ninth US Open final after a five set win over Alexander Zverev

  • In Sunday's final, Djokovic will play Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev

  • Victory for Djokovic would give him a record 21st major title and complete the calendar Grand Slam

Novak Djokovic has reached a record-breaking ninth US Open final, after a tricky five-set victory over Olympic champion Alexander Zverev.

After winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year, the Serbian has a shot at becoming the first man to win a calendar Grand Slam for 52 years after Rod Laver in 1969 and collect a record breaking 21st major title, giving him one more than his great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Laver was watching on as Djokovic doggedly fought his way through this nearly four-hour match.

As in his previous three rounds, the Serbian had to come from a set down, but a clinical serving game and sloppy errors from his fourth-seed opponent saw him prevail in what was his toughest match of the tournament so far.

Djokovic, who has not played his best tennis in New York, but still found a way to win, suffered a break of serve late in the first set when he double-faulted while he was down 40-15. The rest of the set raced away from him and just by keeping things tight, Zverev had a 1-0 lead.

The German was on a 16-match win streak, including Olympic gold medal and Cincinnati title and had only lost one set all tournament before Friday. Djokovic had a match on his hands.

In the second set, he snapped back into action, upping the tempo and forcing Zverev to play loose and long shots. Zverev, who was attempting to become the first men’s player to reach back-to-back US Open finals since Djokovic in 2015 and 2016 was blown away. Djokovic was ruthless and relentless, breaking early and breaking again. 6-2 and the match was all square.

The third set was tight and contained some of the best points this tournament has seen. But it was mired with Zverev frustration, as fractional judgments on the ball tracking cameras went against him. At least three times, the German looked up at the big screen in disbelief as the little yellow dot clipped the thick white line. Djokovic was safe.

In what proved to be the final game of the set, Zverev found himself 40-0 down while on serve. He lost rallies of 18, 32 and 12 shots, but then out of nowhere, took on Djokovic at his own game and won rallies of 21 and...incredibly… 53 shots.

The longest rally of the tournament lasted well over a minute but ultimately could not stop Zverev from losing the game and the set. 2-1 Djokovic and one set from the final.

But he could not capitalise on the momentum. Zverev broke Djokovic in the fourth game and sailed through the rest of the fourth set, holding his serves while not really putting Djokovic under much pressure to be broken again.

In the decider, Zverev was on the back foot straight away, losing his first service game and finding himself 3-0 down.

He couldn’t make up for it. In fact, he only made things worse for himself. Needlessly loose shots followed and Zverev lost another service game. He looked at his coaching team for an answer, but by then it was too late. Djokovic held serve to make it 5-0, Zverev made it 5-1 and even managed to break Djokovic, to the delight of his fans.

But there would be no comeback. Djokovic shut the door to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

Afterwards, he showed his appreciation to the boisterous crowd inside the Arthur Ashe stadium.

“Everyday you look for the motivation to do the same things over and over again but it all pays off in this incredible atmosphere,” he said.

When asked what he did when he was under pressure, Djokovic said: “You are by yourself. There is no escape so you have to find a way. There is no secret to success, it is just many things combined.

“Tennis is a beautiful sport, a very demanding sport and you have to have your mind and body balanced if you are to compete for the big titles.”

Djokovic, who already has three US Open titles to his name, will play world number two Daniil Medvedev on Sunday evening after the Russian beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in three sets.

Novak Djokovic vs Alexander Zverev, as it happened

03:44 AM

That's all folks

We will call it a night there. Another phenomenal performance by Djokovic.

But on Saturday, attention turns to Emma Raducanu. Telegraph Sport will have comprehensive coverage throughout the day with our live blog kicking off at 7pm and the match shortly after 9pm.

03:41 AM

Record breaking Djokovic

03:26 AM

Djokovic speaks

These are the moments we live for, the unique opportunities we dream of every day when we wake up and are trying to find the motivation to go out and do the same things over again.

Alexander is a big champion, someone I admire on and off the court. We see each other a lot in Monaco, He is a great guy and an even better player. I knew it was going to be a battle.

There is a lot of different emotions, it is kind of a hurricane of emotions, even in one point, you are by yourself on the court so you have t find a way - over the years I have managed to find a formula that works for me, many things combined. Tennis is very beautiful but demanding.

Novak Djokovic Alexander Zverev US Open 2021 live score latest updates - AP
Novak Djokovic Alexander Zverev US Open 2021 live score latest updates - AP

03:20 AM

The winning moment for Djokovic

03:09 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Djokovic with the drop shot again and he comes out on top in a net duel, 0-15. Zverev forehand winner, 15-15. He's not going away without a fight.

Zverev ace, 30-15. Djokovic backhand winner, 30-30. Zverev forehand on the run is just long, match point Djokovic.

Zverev backhand into the net, GAME>SET>MATCH DJOKOVIC!

03:02 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 5-2 Zverev (*denotes server)

Zverev gets to a Djokovic drop shot and flicks a forehand into the corner, 0-15. Djokovic forehand into the net, 0-30. 11th ace for Djokovic, 15-30.

Zverev is hanging on and he flicks a backhand down the line for a winner, 15-40. Zverev dumps a backhand into the net, 30-40. Zverev forehand return into the net, deuce.

Djokovic forehand long, break point Zverev. Djokovic finds the line with a forehand winner, deuce.

Djokovic backhand wide, fourth break point for Zverev. Djokovic ace! Deuce.

Zverev forehand winner after another amazing rally of attrition. Djokovic double fault. Wow.

02:52 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 5-1 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev holds to 15 with a brilliant backhand winner down the line. But the stage is now set for Djokovic...

02:48 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 5-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Zverev backhand into the net, 15-0. Zverev has won 6 points to Djokovic's 18 in this set.

Zverev forehand into the net, 30-0. A forehand return is wide, 40-0. And Djokovic is a game away from the final when Zverev puts a forehand return long.

02:45 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 4-0 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Forehand drop shot from Djokovic finds the line, 30-15. Djokovic turns on the style and whips a forehand winner into the corner, 30-30.

Great defence by Djokovic and Zverev puts a forehand long, break point. More outstanding defence and Zverev hits an overhead long. That was the pressure there. The German bottled it.

02:39 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 3-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic does what you have to do at this point in the match. He finds his first serve and races into a 3-0 lead.

02:36 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 2-0 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev double faults after a 133mph second serve, 15-30. Zverev overhead winner as we enter the third hour of the match, 30-30.

Zverev backhand into the net, break point Djokovic. Too good from Djokovic. A 30 shot rally. Djokovic brings Zverev to the net with a drop shot and he flicks a forehand pass winner. Incredible.

02:31 AM

Fifth set: Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 1-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic nets a forehand after a 12 shot rally, 0-15. Djokovic responds and moves to 40-15 after Zverev nets a backhand.

Strong start by Djokovic completed when Zverev fails to return another first serve.

02:28 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev ace, 15-0. Zverev catches the baseline with a forehand and Djokovic frames a backhand wide, 30-0.

Zverev double faults, that was way out, 30-15. Djokovic drop shot but Zverev reaches it and flicks a forehand down the line for a winner, two set points.

Djokovic forehand return into the net and Zverev takes the fourth set. We are going into a final set at the US Open!

02:21 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-5 Zverev (*denotes server)

Must hold service game for Djokovic. Djokovic forehand into the tramlines, 15-30. Djokovic backhand winner, 40-30.

Great return by Zverev, deuce. But Djokovic does hold to force Zverev to serve for the net. Can he do it?

02:17 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 3-5 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev's found his rhythm on serve again as he races to 40-0. And holds after a deep forehand draws the error from Djokovic.

02:13 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 3-4 Zverev (*denotes server)

Routine love service hold for Djokovic. He remains a game behind.

02:11 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 2-4 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev double fault, 15-15. Zverev overhead winner, 30-15. Zverev forehand wide, 30-30.

Zverev overhead winner, 40-30. Off balance Zverev hits a backhand long, deuce.

Wow. Zverev hits a 134mph second serve and Djokovic unsurprisingly can't get the return back in play.

Djokovic forehand into the tramlines and Zverev holds.

02:05 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 2-3 Zverev (*denotes server)

A bit of a lull in the stadium as everyone catches their breath after some incredible games.

Djokovic holds to 30.

02:02 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 1-3 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev is starting to get the upper hand in the long exchanges and clearly has the momentum.

A big serve down the T takes Zverev to 40-15. And he consolidates the break when Djokovic's forehand flies long.

01:57 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 1-2 Zverev (*denotes server)

Zverev backhand winner down the line, 30-15. Djokovic flicks a backhand wide, 30-30.

Zverev forehand winner into the open court, deuce. Djokovic catches the backhand with a ridiculous backhand winner.

The level of tennis is insanely high right now. And Zverev gets himself a break point after staying in the rally and finishing with an overhead winner. But as he has done on multiple occasions, Djokovic finds his first serve and Zverev can't get the ball back in play.

Djokovic forehand long, break point. Zverev forehand winner down the line. He breaks first in the fourth.

01:47 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 1-1 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Back-to-back big first serves by Zverev, 30-15. Djokovic forehand winner, 30-30. Great stretch volley by Zverev and he puts away an overhead smash, 40-30.

Zverev's turn to drag Djokovic into the net with a drop shot and pass him with a forehand winner.

01:44 AM

Fourth set: Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 1-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic forehand long, 30-30. Djokovic completes a solid hold with an ace to keep up the momentum.

01:42 AM

You won't see a better rally this year

01:36 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev forehand long, 0-15. Longest rally of the match, 32 shots, Zverev forehand is just out, 0-30.

Zverev shanks a forehand out of the court, 0-40. Djokovic forehand into the net, 15-40. OH MY GOODNESS. 53 SHOT RALLY. Incredible hitting and Zverev hits a forehand winner. One more break point to go.

Djokovic overhead winner after another grueling rally. The world No 1 is a set away from the final.

01:26 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 5-4 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic drags Zverev to the net with a drop shot and flicks a lob over his head, brilliant. Djokovic forehand into the net, 15-15. Djokovic catches the baseline with a brilliant backhand down the line, 30-15.

Zverev forehand into the net, 40-15. And Djokovic holds when Zverev nets a return.

01:23 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 4-4 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev starts the game with a double fault. But responds with a 135mph first serve, 15-15. Gutsy overhead winner by Zverev, 30-15. Zverev forehand into the net, 30-30. Massive point coming up.

Big first serve by Zverev and Djokovic's return goes wide. Djokovic nets a return and Zverev holds. The tension is mounting.

01:18 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 4-3 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic forehand long on the opening point. Big chance for Zverev but he nets a forehand volley, 30-15.

Excellent serve down the T by Djokovic, 40-15. Great rally, 21 shots, and Djokovic holds with a sliding drop shot winner.

01:14 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 3-3 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Tenth ace of the match by Zverev to open this game. Djokovic then puts a forehand long, 30-0. Ace No 11, 40-0.

Ace No 12 equals a hold for the fourth seed. We are approaching the business end of the set.

01:11 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 3-2 Zverev (*denotes server)

Strange choice of shot by Djokovic as he hits a drop shot into the net, 15-30. Serve and volley from Djokovic but Zverev flicks a backhand pass down the line, two break points.

Zverev nets a forehand return on the first. Djokovic ace, deuce. Perfection.

And Djokovic survives another scare to hold. He's so clutch when it matters most.

01:05 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 2-2 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Error strewn game by Djokovic allows Zverev to hold to love. The German seems to be findung his power again.

01:01 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 2-1 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic backhand into the net, 0-15. But he responds with his first serve coming to the fore to move to 40-15.

Djokovic puts a backhand long to keep Zverev in the game, 40-30. And holds with an ace.

12:58 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2, 1-1 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Deft touch at the net by Djokovic with a half-volley, 40-30. But the Serbian is disappointed as he fails to return a Zverev first serve and allows his opponent to hold.

12:54 AM

Third set: Djokovic* 4-6, 6-2, 1-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Zverev goes on the attack with play reminiscent of his level in the first set, 0-30. Big Djokovic first set unreturned, 15-30. Zverev backhand into the net. Poor shot.

Great play by Zverev to put Djokovic on the defense and he finishes with a volley winner, break point. Djokovic responds again with a big first serve. Deuce.

And Djokovic survives to hold. That could be a hugely significant game.

12:47 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 6-2 Zverev* (*denotes server)

A fourth double fault by Zverev, 0-30. He follows it up with an ace, 15-30. But then puts a forehand wide, two set points to level it for Djokovic.

Zverev saves the first with an ace. But he flicks a backhand slice long and Djokovic does take it.

13 unforced errors killing Zverev and he won just 30 per cent of points on his second serve.

12:41 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 5-2 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic forehand winner, 15-0. Djokovic pulls Zverev wide and the German's backhand down the line is into the tramlines, 40-15. Djokovic backhand into the net, 40-30.

Djokovic ace to hold. He's a game away from the set.

12:37 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 4-2 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev double fault, 30-15. But he responds with a big first serve, 40-15. Good solid hold by Zverev as he finishes with a forehand winner.

12:34 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 4-1 Zverev (*denotes server)

Zverev forehand winner down the line, 15-15. And another, 15-30! Djokovic ace, 30-30. Unreturned Djokovic first serve, 40-30.

A duel at the net and Djokovic holds again.

12:30 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 3-1 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev rediscovers his first serve again and that allows him to hold much more comfortably.

12:26 AM

Djokovic* 4-6, 3-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic cements the break with an impressive hold to love. Zverev's level has dropped and Djokovic has taken full advantage.

That's what the greats do.

12:23 AM

Djokovic 4-6, 2-0 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Another mis-hit on the forehand side by Djokovic. Seems to be struggling with the pace coming into that side, 30-15.

Great return by Djokovic and Zverev nets a backhand, 30-30. Zverev's turn to mis-hit a forehand and it's a first break point for Djokovic.

Zverev double fault and Djokovic gets the break. That was Zverev's worst service game of the match.

12:19 AM

Second set: Djokovic* 4-6, 1-0 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic nets a defensive backhand, 15-30. Zverev is pushed wide and just misses with a forehand down the line, 30-30.

Another framed forehand into the stands by Djokovic, deuce. But he survives another challenge to his serve and stops Zverev's streak at three.

12:12 AM

Djokovic 4-6 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev ace, 30-0. His fourth of the match. A fifth gives him three set points. A first double fault of the match from Zverev, 40-15.

Zverev backhand wide, 40-30. Massive point coming up now. Djokovic shanks a forehand into the air and it's first blood to Zverev.

That's the fourth match in a row Djokovic has dropped the first set at the US Open.

12:06 AM

Djokovic* 4-5 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic forehand winner down the line, 15-15. Djokovic forehand into the net, 15-30. Zverev on the attack and Djokovic nets a defensive backhand, two break points.

Djokovic double fault! Zverev breaks. Wow.

12:02 AM

Djokovic 4-4 Zverev* (*denotes server)

The ball striking at the moment is frankly ridiculous. So clean and purposeful.

Back-to-back forehand errors from Djokovic though allows Zverev to hold to 15.

11:57 PM

Djokovic* 4-3 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic forehand into the tramlines, 30-15. Then a backhand into the net, 30-30. Rally of the match and Zverev calls on the match to get on their feet.

A pulsating rally between the two men, Djokovic hits a drop shot, Zverev gets to it and hits one of his own, Djokovic flicks a shot around the net but Zverev gets to it and flicks a forehand winner into the open court. Break point Zverev.

Big Djokovic first serve to save break point. And the world No 1 survives his first challenge of the evening.

11:51 PM

Djokovic 3-3 Zverev* (*denotes server)

First love hold of the match for Zverev is sealed with an ace.

11:48 PM

Djokovic* 3-2 Zverev (*denotes server)

Good depth from Zverev on the backhand side catches out Djokovic, 0-15. Zverev forehand winner, 0-30.

Two first serves from Djokovic are unreturned by Zverev, 30-30. Djokovic ace, 40-30. Zverev goes just wide with the backhand and Djokovic holds.

Impressive recovery from the world No 1.

11:44 PM

Djokovic 2-2 Zverev* (*denotes server)

Zverev gets a hold to 15 of his own now. Both players serving very impressively so far. Who will blink first?

11:41 PM

Djokovic* 2-1 Zverev (*denotes server)

Djokovic races to 40-0 and holds to 15 with some nice serve and volley. The Serbian rarely does S&V but it's always nice to see!

11:38 PM

Djokovic 1-1 Zverev* (*denotes server)

First long rally of the match, 17 shots, ends with Djokovic going wide with a forehand. First point against the serve as Djokovic hits a nice drop shot, 30-15.

Big first serve unreturned by Djokovic, 40-15. And another unreturned serve allows Zverev to hold.

11:35 PM

First set: Novak Djokovic* 1-0 Alexander Zverev (*denotes server)

An ace down the T from Djokovic to open the match. Another accurate first serve and Djokovic finishes with an overhead smash, 30-0.

And he completes a love hold with Zverev puts a backhand long. Very quick service game.

11:28 PM

Here we go!

After a 25 minute delay, the players finally walk onto court. Djokovic with the slightly bigger ovation I think.

Djokovic wins the toss and opts to serve first.

11:25 PM

Pre-match Zverev stats

  • Currently on career-long 16-match win streak, including Olympic gold medal and Cincinnati title. Bids to become 2nd man in history win Olympic gold medal and US Open title in same season (also Murray in 2012).

  • Like Medvedev, has lost only 1 set en route to US Open SF (1st set vs. Sock in 3R).

  • Owns 18-6 record at US Open – tying 18-6 record at Roland Garros for most wins and highest win % at a Grand Slam.

  • Bids to become 1st men’s player to reach back-to-back US Open finals since Djokovic in 2015-16.

11:19 PM


Amazon Prime have got to the bottom of the delay and say POTUS actually isn't coming to watch.

But he is flying in New York for September 11 ceremonies tomorrow.

11:15 PM

Pre-match Djokovic stats

  • Seeks 31st Grand Slam final (20-10), which would tie Federer for most of all time (Federer 31, Djokovic 30, Nadal 28).

  • Also seeks 9th US Open final (3-5), which would break tie with Lendl and Sampras for most in Open Era (since 1968).

  • Would be oldest US Open finalist since Agassi, 35, in 2005 and 2nd-oldest US Open champion in Open Era (Rosewall, 35, in 1970)

  • Boasts 30-11 record in Grand Slam SFs with 6 consecutive wins (16-1 since loss to Nishikori in 2014 US Open SF).

11:07 PM

POTUS on his way

According to Amazon Prime, US President Joe Biden will be in attendance for this match and it has caused a slight delay to the match!

11:01 PM

Video: What happened when they met last month?

10:55 PM

Can Djokovic emulate this legend?

10:30 PM

We have our first finalist

Daniil Medvedev marched into his third grand slam final with a straight-sets victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The Russian looked thoroughly impressive in the course of his 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 triumph, although he did have to recover from a break down and save two set points in the second set.

Medvedev is yet to win a grand slam final after losing in both his previous appearances at the same venue in 2019 and in Australia earlier this year.

Novak Djokovic Alexander Zverev US Open 2021 live score latest updates - AFP
Novak Djokovic Alexander Zverev US Open 2021 live score latest updates - AFP

10:10 PM

Good evening!

Hello and welcome to coverage of the second US Open men's semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic is just two wins from tennis immortality as he bids to complete the calendar slam - winning all four major titles. But he faces a stiff test against Zverev, who is arguably the most in-form player in the draw and beat Djokovic last month at the Olympics.

After seeing off Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, Djokovic swatted away questions about his bid to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four majors.

"I have had enough of answering that. I just said millions of times that, of course, I'm aware of the history, of course it gives me motivation," said the 34-year-old. "If I start to think about it too much, it burdens me mentally. I want to really go back to the basics and what really works for me mentally."

Djokovic, tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 majors, acknowledged he was in a unique position but added that he expected a battle against Zverev.

"These are the hurdles that I need to overcome in order to get to the desired destination ... but I know what works for me to win just the next match," he said.

Zverev extended his winning streak to 16 matches by easing past South African Lloyd Harris 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-4 and it leaves him one win away from returning to a second consecutive US Open final and another shot at a first career major title after losing to Dominic Thiem last year.

An improved serve has been a major factor in Zverev's winning run and again contributed to his win over Harris as the German fired down 21 aces and won 82 per cent of first-serve points.

"I've said it before, the serve is the shot I've spent the most time on," said Zverev. "It's the shot that I've got to practise the most.

"At some point I feel like, if you work very hard, you're doing the right things, it will come together. Maybe that's what's happening right now."