Novak Djokovic hopes his third-round comeback from two sets down against Laslo Djere in the early hours of Saturday morning will send a firm message to the locker room, and any future opponents, about his endurance and readiness as he continues to seek out a 24th grand slam title.
“The message is sent to the rest of the field that I’m still able to play five sets deep at night,” he said. “Coming from two sets down always sends a strong message to the future opponents.
“At the same time I’m not really wanting to be in this position. I prefer a straight-set win. Hopefully, I can get back on that track in the next match.”
Djere, also from Serbia, started extremely well by attacking off both wings, serving effectively and moving fluidly from on top of the baseline, while Djokovic was extremely flat in the early stages. The 28-year-old took an early lead and efficiently consolidated it, quickly establishing a two set lead.
“He played terrific,” said Djokovic. “I have never seen him play like this. He was feeling the ball extremely well. Everything was kind of in his striking zone. He was tactically prepared very well.
“He started off the match very, very good. He was far more comfortable than me. I was defending mostly in the first two sets. I could have and should have played better, on a high level in these two sets, but huge credit to him for making me uncomfortable on the court and playing really some of the best tennis I’ve seen him play.”
In recent years though, Djokovic has demonstrated his proficiency at not only recovering from two-set deficits, but making the final three so one-sided that the latter part of those matches somehow look a completely different contest.
While he had not pulled off such a recovery here in New York since his classic win over Roger Federer in 2011, Djokovic has recovered from two sets down four times in the past three years, doing so against Lorenzo Musetti and Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 French Open, and Jannik Sinner at Wimbledon last year.
Each time, as soon as he grabbed hold of the initiative, Djokovic refused to offer his opponents another chance. In both of those tournaments, he finished the fortnight as champion.
After trailing by two sets, Djokovic took a bathroom break and said he gave himself a pep talk. “I laughed at myself because I was so agitated and annoyed with the game. I had to force myself to lift my spirits,” he said.
As Friday night turned into Saturday morning and after falling down two sets, Djokovic immediately responded once again, taking a 3-0 lead in the third. In theory, Djere should have been comforted by the dominant lead he had established, but in reality he looked under pressure even before Djokovic had pulled a set back.
To his credit, Djere recovered after conceding the third set and he re-established some of his ballstriking prowess from the first two frames. But Djokovic was better. He returned faultlessly, firing so many of Djere’s first serves back to within centimetres of the baseline, and he was unimpeachable from the baseline, using his incredible defensive skills to constantly force Djere to play an extra ball until he inevitably missed. Having established his stranglehold, the 36-year-old did not let it go.
“I raised my level and was reading his game slightly better in the third, fourth and fifth than I have in the first two sets,” said Djokovic. “I served well when I needed to, especially in the fifth. It was only one break. He had a break point to come back to the match. It was a nerve-racking last game.”
So often in his career, staring down the prospect of defeat while trailing two sets has only emboldened Djokovic when he has been able to recover. In a mangled bottom half of the draw, with the No 9, Taylor Fritz, the second-highest ranked player left, the No 2 seed and tournament favourite faces Borna Gojo, a qualifier, next.