NEW YORK — World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is now one game closer to his goal – a calendar Grand Slam – after winning his third-round match against No. 56 Kei Nishikori of Japan, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.
Entering the match, Nishikori had a 2-17 record against his opponent, his most losses against any opponent in his ATP career, but he put up a good fight, taking the first set from Djokovic 7-6. Djokovic said Nishikori’s level of play caught him off guard a bit and presented a different challenge compared with some of his previous opponents.
“I don’t think I started off very well, I was quite passive,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview after the match. “He was dictating the play and I was still trying to find the rhythm and tempo. He played much quicker and aggressive than my opponents in the opening rounds, so it took me time to adjust to his game. I think in the beginning of the second set I felt like I was getting my rhythm back. I was pleased with my focus. I think at some point I wasn’t at my best, but I was determined, I was focused.”
Djokovic’s ability to stay focused – even when things aren’t going according to plan – has been key in his quest toward a feat that hasn’t been achieved in men’s professional tennis since 1969. The world No. 1 said to ESPN earlier this week that he’s been eyeing the calendar Grand Slam since he won the French Open in 2016, his fourth Grand Slam win in a row (but not all in the same year). He said he feels his mental strength is as important as any forehand or backhand he hits.
“Pressure, we all have it, top guys, especially me here with history on the line,” he told ESPN. “Pressure is huge. But at the same time, I thrive on that. I like that. Because there’s a saying, pressure is privilege, and I truly believe and live by that so it’s an honor to be in this situation. You work for that.”
Djokovic showed that ability to perform under pressure on Saturday, in what ended up being a 3½ hour match. He made 20 unforced errors in the first set, but managed to drop that number to 10½ per set in the last three sets. He broke Nishikori seven times and started to express more emotion as the match went on, pumping his fist and engaging with the crowd.
Djokovic is now 24-0 in Grand Slam matches this season. Nishikori joked afterward that if Djokovic was feeling any pressure, he didn’t see it on the court.
“Once I adapted to the pace of his ball, I felt better on the court,” Djokovic said in a news conference. “I felt like I’m starting to gain the momentum and control of the match. Served well when I needed to. When I was up, I just kept pushing and kept applying pressure on his service games.
“All in all, I thought it was a high level of tennis. Good quality tennis from both of us. Had to work for this victory, and I’m glad. It feels satisfying to go out from the court with a win against a player who is playing in really great form today.”
With this win, Djokovic moves into the fourth round of the Open for the 14th consecutive year. He’ll face either wild card Jenson Brooksby of the United States or Aslan Karatsev of Russia.
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