Novak Djokovic struggled at the US Open on Monday, but he came within three matches of completing the first men’s singles calendar-year Grand Slam in 52 years by beating American Jenson Brooksby.
World number one Djokovic rallied past 99th-ranked Brooksby 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 to book a quarter-final encounter with Italian sixth seed Matteo Berrettini in a rematch of July’s Wimbledon final.
“It’s going to be exciting,”Djokovic said. “He loves the big stage. Big serve, big game overall. I know what to expect. Going to try to prepare a good game plan and hope for the best.”
The 34-year-old Serbian star would become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to sweep all four major titles in the same year by capturing his fourth career US Open crown.
Djokovic also seeks a men’s singles record 21st Slam trophy, which would boost him one ahead of “Big Three” rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both absent with injuries.
An epic shocker seemed possible when Brooksby, a 20-year-old American wildcard who hadn’t played Djokovic before, broke in the second and sixth games and fired a service winner to claim the first set in 29 minutes.
“He just played a perfect first set,”Djokovic said. “I could do nothing. I was still finding my footing on the court.
“I must say it wasn’t a great start. Jenson was pumped. He had a clear game plan. He was executing his shots tremendously. I was on my back foot. He was reading the play well for a set and a half.”
Djokovic broke in the second game of the second set but was broken in an electrifying 20-minute fifth game, netting a backhand on Brooksby’s sixth break chance as the American raised his arms and jumped for joy.
But Djokovic broke back in the sixth game, ripping a cross-court forehand winner for a 4-2 lead, and held from there to take the 68-minute set.
“After that, I started hitting more cleanly and through the court,” said Djokovic. “Whenever I needed a serve I found my spot well. It was physical, a lot of exhausting rallies.”