Novak Djokovic was in no mood for another US Open five-setter Sunday night, snuffing out a spirited challenge from big-hitting Croatian qualifier Borna Gojo 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 to reach his 57th Grand Slam quarter-final.
Two days on from his comeback from two sets down to defeat fellow Serbian Laslo Djere in the third round, Djokovic patiently absorbed an onslaught of baseline body blows from Gojo before advancing to his 13th US Open quarter-final in 17 appearances.
”I knew that Borna had a big game, even though we hadn’t faced each other at the tour level,” Djokovic said. “I was watching him play qualifying and also the last couple of rounds of the main draw and I saw that he has big weapons with his serve and forehand and that he moves pretty well for a big guy. One of the keys to the match was to neutralise his serve, try to reduce the number of aces and winners from that shot.”
Gojo, the strapping 6’ 5” 25-year-old former Wake Forest college player, came out swinging for the fences and had an early break in the second set. But his high-risk approach did not deliver the big returns he sought as he was undone by 40 unforced errors, including 15 in the first set alone.
Nothing better illustrated the volatile nature of Gojo’s match play than the third game of the second set, when the 2018 NCAA singles finalist endeavoured to consolidate his first break of serve at 2-0. Gojo saved his first break point with a bone-crushing down-the-line backhand winner that Djokovic didn’t see coming, but then threw in consecutive double faults (his fourth and fifth of that game alone!) to drop serve.
Gojo clubbed 40 winners to Djokovic’s 25, but his matching 40 unforced errors were more than triple that of his opponent’s miserly 12.
Chasing his fourth US Open title and 10th final at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic’s game plan revolved around keeping Gojo on the move, making it more difficult for his opponent to get his feet set to take big cuts at the ball.
The 23-time major champion, who will reclaim No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on 11 September for a record-extending 390th week regardless of his ultimate result in New York, will next meet top-ranked American Taylor Fritz, whom he leads 7-0 in their Lexus ATP Head2Head series.
“Taylor has been an established Top 10 player for the past couple of years and he’s been playing some terrific tennis, particularly on home soil in hard-court tournaments here in the States,” Djokovic said. “He’s improved so much over the years. Obviously the matches will only get tougher from here onwards, and I’m ready for the challenge.”
Gojo came into the tournament as the world No. 105 but is up to No. 76 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.