A battle between two Serbs captivated the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night – and showed that tennis legend Novak Djokovic can be human.
Djokovic, the second seed at the US Open, still prevailed by beating unseeded Laslo Djere 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in a match three-hour, 45-minute thrilling third-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Djere, 28, put the 23-time Grand Slam champion into a 2-0 deficit, the first time Djokovic had lost the first two sets of a match since coming back against Jannik Sinner in the 2022 Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Djokovic looked vulnerable, even more so than in his Wimbledon loss to top-seeded Carlos Alcarez at Flushing Meadows.
Djere has only won two titles in his professional career, which started in 2013. Both tournaments were on clay: Rio de Janeiro and Sardinia.
This season, he has been knocked out in the first, second and third rounds of the other three Grand Slam tournaments.
The US Open crowd seemed torn between the two players, encouraging Djere to pull off the big upset one second and then one of the world favorites the next.
As the match progressed, fewer and fewer seats were filled, but those who remained were treated to an exciting comeback spectacle.
In the third set, Djokovic rallied to hold Djere to one game. The fourth set was filled with long, grueling volleys.
Everyone had their highlights. Djere arguably had the shot of the match with a backhand down the line that looked nigh on impossible to pull off in the fourth set.
But Djokovic did what he often does, to get out of a close game.
He outlasted his opponent.
Djokovic took advantage of errors made by Djere during his several deuces in the third set, including several wide and deep shots off the court, preventing him from breaking Djokovic’s serve.
In the last set, Djokovic tired Djere, who still had good shots and proven stamina, but not enough to overtake the so-called Djoker.
Djokovic sealed the win in a close draw in game nine, ending with a shot wide from Djere.
On Sunday, Djokovic will face 25-year-old, unseeded Croatian Borna Gojo, who turned professional in 2020.