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NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic continued his quest for a calendar-year Grand Slam on Thursday night, facing No. 121 Tallon Griekspoor out of the Netherlands. It went about as one would expect: Djokovic delivered a clinical win, taking the match in straight sets — 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 – in just one hour and 39 minutes. He won it with his 13th ace of the night, one that clocked in at 121 mph.
The Serbian tennis player now is five wins from the historic feat he’s long been eyeing: the first men’s singles calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver accomplished the feat 52 years ago, and a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title. After his win against Griekspoor, he is 15-0 in U.S. Open second-round matches.
Djokovic said in a post-match news conference that he felt better about his performance against Griekspoor than he did about his performance in his first-round match against 18-year-old Holger Rune, who took a set from the world No. 1 before succumbing to severe cramps. Djokovic felt he’d found his rhythm in his serve against Griekspoor, characterizing his own performance as “great.”
“I made him play,” he said after the match. “I saw him first time playing in his first-round match a couple days ago with (Jan-Lennard) Struff, saw he was serving really well. So I knew that the keys of the match, one of the biggest keys, is my return, trying to make him play, trying to make him move. He's not the greatest mover on the court. I tried to give him always a different look.
“All in all very good, very good. I'm very pleased with the level of my tennis. All is going in the right direction.”
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Djokovic will face No. 56 Kei Nishikori in the third round later this week. Nishikori is 2-17 against Djokovic – but Djokovic's last loss to Nishikori came at the place he’ll face him next – the U.S. Open – in 2014.
“We played many times,” Djokovic said of his next opponent. “I have very good score against him. I lost I think last time here in New York in semis in 2014. Historically, I think his most successful Grand Slam is here. He's one of the quickest and most talented players that I've seen in my lifetime, in my career.
“I think it's important for me to serve well and try to take off the pace a little bit because he likes the pace. He likes to hit the ball early, protect the line.”
In an interview with ESPN after the match, Djokovic reflected on the weight of the historic feat he’s trying to achieve. He said he felt it was more a mental challenge than a physical one.
“Physically, I feel great,” he said. “I can go a couple of hours every day. I don’t mind being on the court for a long time. Actually, the longer the match goes, I feel I have more chances to win against anybody in best of five. So, it’s really more about handling everything that is happening off the court, all the expectations. But as I’ve said, (it’s) trying to take it moment by moment, really stay in the present moment, and get the most out of it.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: U.S. Open: Novak Djokovic focused on mental game as he wins again