Novak Djokovic survived a scare in the third round of the US Open, fighting back to win a five-set match 4-6 4-6 6-1 6-1 6-3 against fellow Serb Laslo Djere.
It was almost 2am by the time that the match finally finished, but much of the crowd had stayed to watch Djokovic complete his comeback from two sets down for the eighth time in a grand slam, according to the ATP Tour.
Victory ensured that Djokovic’s hopes of winning a 24th grand slam title remain alive, as he seeks to equal Margaret Court’s outright record and extend his own men’s record.
“I hope you enjoyed the show, it was not so enjoyable for me especially in the first two sets,” Djokovic told the crowd, according to the ATP Tour. “It was one of the toughest matches I have played here in many years. Huge, huge credit to Laslo for playing some of the best tennis that I’ve ever seen him play.”
Djere’s serve in the first two sets was impenetrable, even for Djokovic who is considered one of the best returners in the game. The No.32 seed held every service game in the first two sets, and won 18 of his 20 first serve points in the second set, according to the US Open.
And then Djokovic displayed all the tenacity and skill that has propelled him to 23 grand slam titles.
Two sets down and facing a huge upset, he broke Djere’s serve for the first time in the match at the first opportunity in the third set, winning break point after an astonishing 26-shot rally.
It came after Djokovic had given himself a “little pep talk in the mirror” when he left the court in the break following the first two sets, he said afterwards, per Reuters.
“I had to force myself to lift myself up, lift the spirits up a little bit. I’ve done it a few times before in my career, it worked. A few times it didn’t work, but tonight it did and I’m grateful.”
From that point on, Djokovic seemed in control of the match even as Djere almost broke in the third game of the fourth set.
The 36-year-old will next face Croatian qualifier Borna Gojo in the fourth round.