US Open 2015: Novak Djokovic landmarks keep coming – now a 26th straight Major quarter-final

Novak Djokovic beats Roberto Bautista Agut at the US Open to reach his 26th successive Grand Slam quarter-final

It was 2011 that set the stage for what has become one of the finest stretches in any tennis career.

Novak Djokovic, already with a Grand Slam title and Masters Cup to his name, would notch up 10 titles from 11 finals, break the rankings glass ceiling to reach No1 after his first Wimbledon title, and lose just six matches in 76 by the year’s end.

But for the lithe, flexible, super-fit Serb, it was just the start. Come 2012, he won six titles from 11 finals, and a career-best 75 wins from 87 matches. In 2013, it was seven titles from nine finals, and another 74 match-wins, and 2014 brought another seven titles from eight finals.

And these were not simply regular tour titles. All 36 victories since the start of 2011 were at Grand Slam or Masters level except five 500s and one 250—a particularly proud win at the now extinct Serbian Open. And his 13 finals? Just one, the Dubai 500, was below that same top tier.

It is a remarkable run by any measure, yet there is no sign of Djokovic easing off, dropping his level of tennis nor his level of commitment. His appointment of Boris Becker at the start of last year, for example, showed a continued determination to squeeze still more from his game.

And if Djokovic ended 2014 with slightly fewer match-wins than he had become used to, it was a ‘dip’ that could be easily explained. He missed the Madrid Masters with a wrist injury, and fell short of the Shanghai final just a week before the birth of his first child. Even so, he barely blinked, returning a week after becoming a father to win the Paris Masters and the World Tour Finals.

Against the backdrop of four such seasons, then, what Djokovic has continued to achieve in 2015 is extraordinary: He could, on current form, even outdo 2011.

Take the year so far: 60 match-wins for five losses; a career-high 10 straight finals since winning the Australian Open; two Grand Slams and four Masters titles; fifth place on the all-time list of Grand Slam match-wins, at 204; and the semis or better in 20 of his last 21 Majors.

And with his most recent victory in New York, Djokovic has reached his 26th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final, a run exceeded only by Roger Federer’s 36 and Jimmy Connors’ 27 in the Open era. He has not, indeed, lost before the quarter-finals in any event since Cincinnati last year.

Now he is close to reaching another personal milestone. Should he make the final next weekend, Djokovic will have reached the final of all four Majors in the same year for the first time, and there is little in the draw to suggest that he won’t do just that.

Until last night, when he dropped a set to No23 seed Roberto Bautista-Agut, Djokovic had not even been forced to a tie-break. The Spaniard, though, determined to take on Djokovic aggressively in an attempt to turn around his 0-2 head to head, and over the course of three hours, hit 34 winners and came to the net with unusual frequency.

The tactic paid dividends, with 19 points won from 27 attempts, but Djokovic has been adding that same string to his bow in recent seasons, and he deployed it with even greater determination: 45 approaches, 31 points won. Yes, the Serb is still evolving, still broadening his canvas.

Even so, Bautista Agut hit back from a break down in the second set to take it, 6-4, but the Serb, owner of one of the sharpest brains on the tour, quickly assessed the problem, as he afterwards explained:
“I started allowing him to control the rallies. I didn’t do what I did for a set and a half, which was after few balls stepping in and taking control. If you give him an opportunity, if you drop your level, he’s the kind of a player, similar to David Ferrer, who is going to get on top of you.

“I was frustrated with the fact from 4-2 and 15/40, I wasn’t able to capitalise on those opportunities and to lose five games in a row. I cannot allow myself to do that. It happens. I’m a player who shows emotions.”

What ‘happened’ was a broken racket—a familiar release of tension from Djokovic when he is less than impressed by his tennis—but it did the trick. Djokovic upped his level to take the third set, 6-4, and after a flurry of breaks on both sides in the fourth, took the match, 6-3.

Next up for Djokovic is not the anticipated foe Rafael Nadal but rather the in-form No18 seed Feliciano Lopez, who at almost 34 years of age is enjoying some of the best form of his career.

The popular left-handed Spaniard has always had power and flair, playing a serve-and-volley game that has borne fruit at Wimbledon, where he has three times reached the quarter-finals. Now he has done so in New York for the first time, but…

Djokovic has beaten Lopez in all five previous matches, and dropped only one set in all that time, though they have not met in almost three years. As the Spaniard said: “When Novak plays good, you don’t know what to do to be honest. He has no weaknesses in his game.”

And not only has Djokovic side-stepped one of his biggest rivals, Nadal, in the quarters but, should he reach the semis, he will have to face neither of the top seeds from the other quarter, No7 David Ferrer or No4 Kei Nishikori—the man who beat him here in the semis last year. Rather, No19 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and defending champion, No9 Marin Cilic will contest that honour.

The final? Well that is another country, one that promises one of the three men who have beaten him in his most recent losses: Federer won in Cincinnati and Dubai, Andy Murray in Montreal, and Stan Wawrinka at the French Open. But the three will have to play off against one another first, in a half where seven of the top eight seeds are still in contention.

Djokovic may have won the US Open title just once from five previous finals here, his victory coming in that all-conquering 2011, but it is going to take some mighty performances from the rest to halt him this time.

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