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Novak Djokovic is knocking on the door of tennis history


By Martin Rogers
Fox Sports Columnist

Editor's note: Novak Djokovic advanced to the US Open final with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win over Alexander Zverev on Friday night. He will face Daniil Medvedev in the final on Sunday.

At Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday, 20-year-old American Jenson Brooksby swung for the line and hit them, swinging for straightaway winners and hitting them too, swinging with the kind of fearless abandon that made New York audiences fall in love with someone and they did.

The stadium rocked as Brooksby raced to a 6-1 lead in the first set of their Round of 16 matchup, with the biggest crowd at this year's US Open cheering him on for bigger and better or similar.

It was fun while it lasted.

It never gets going because when it's Novak Djokovic on the other end of the net, usually, it never is.

“Leading into it, I believed 100 percent that I was going to win,” Brooksby told reporters. “Unfortunately, yes, it has become a little difficult.”

Brooksby was enthusiastic and determined and had a lot of talent. For a while, he had his moment. The problem is, this year especially Djokovic has every moment. After things turned around, with a break of serve at the start of the second set, they were already well on their way and the world number one secured a place in the quarter-finals with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

When it comes to the biggest matches on the biggest stage, anyone against Djokovic is having small moments. In truth, Brooksby lasted longer than most.

Djokovic now stands on the cusp of not just making tennis history but owning it, unless something completely unexpected happens between now and Sunday. It is virtually impossible to think of a scenario where an athlete is in a position to accomplish something so untimely and difficult, yet it seems so inconceivable that he could fail to get there.

If Djokovic wins the tournament, he will become the first male tennis player to win the calendar Grand Slam since 1969, collecting four majors in one year. On the women's side, Steffi Graf did it in 1988 while adding the Olympic title the same year.

Rod Laver was the last man to accomplish this feat, and since then, many greats have been unable to replicate it, from Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras to, of course, modern-day icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic is moving into a truly unique atmosphere right now. Three more matches, and he would be the all-time Slam record holder with 21. He is currently tied at 20 with Federer and Nadal, neither of whom are in New York due to injuries that have uncertain resolution dates.

Reaching 21 would represent an almost farcical number. Sampras was the previous Slam leader, with 14, before capturing the modern trio. The great John McEnroe won seven major singles titles in a five-year span from 1979 to '84. Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl each had eight major singles titles, most of which came in the mid-'80s.

It's sports, so obviously, anything can happen, but it has the feeling of being in the books already. FOX Bet has Djokovic at -150 to win at Flushing Meadows for the fourth time, with second seed Daniil Medvedev the closest competitor at +187.

On paper, at least some challenges await. Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini is up next in the quarters, followed by a possible semi-final clash with world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, possibly by Medvedev. Although the idea is that the longer an event, the stronger Djokovic becomes, his invulnerability from the baseline sooner or later diminishes the strength of his opponents.

“He takes your feet first,” tweeted former world No. 1 Andy Roddick. “Then he takes your soul.”

Djokovic even seems to have developed a mental edge over Federer and Nadal in recent years, and he certainly has one up on the upcoming crop of youngsters.

“Most opponents that you play, if you're at the top of your game, you know you have a mental advantage before coming into the match,” he told ESPN.

Djokovic hasn't always been a fan favorite in New York, but that's starting to happen now, with the US Open crowd warming to him, appreciating what he's shooting to achieve and its rarity. Fans are aware, perhaps, that as much as Federer and Nadal have always loved, this is the man who will be regarded by future generations as perhaps the greatest player of all time.

In an entertaining twist, Djokovic has adopted the wolf as his spirit animal, through his inner struggle. His wife Jelena wears an “I Run with the Wolf” T-shirt on the sidelines, and Djokovic talks about how the idea brings him peace and reminds him of his childhood in the Serbian mountains.

It could be something that is really helping, or it could just be for the benefit of the public, because Djokovic likes to make a show to break the monotony of collecting all these titles and you never know what should be taken at face value and what not per.

On-court performance, though, has been anything but real, and they're good enough to tackle whatever hurdles they've thrown themselves at the moment, an upstart challenger with nothing to lose or the weight of all that history.

Martin Rogers A columnist for Fox Sports and author of the Fox Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


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