Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks ahead to the latest in tennis. Today, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews day 12 of the 2021 US Open.
As Novak Djokovic marches toward history, one thing has become painfully obvious.
The main draw at this year’s US Open, which was supposedly so weak and easy (we even wrote about it during our run of daily previews), has turned out to be pretty tough.
Really? Yes, really.
Should the 34-year-old complete the calendar-year Grand Slam and win his 28th Grand Slam match of 2021, he will have earned it the hard way, with a tricky third round match (despite their head-to-head record) against Kei Nishikori, a quarterfinal against sixth-seed (and No. 8-ranked player) Matteo Berrettini, and now a semifinal against fourth-seed (and No. 4-ranked player) Alexander Zverev. Should he win this semifinal, Djokovic will likely get a match-up against second-seed (and second-ranked player) Daniil Medvedev.
All things considered, that’s a pretty tough draw. Maybe that explains the discrepancy below in the time spent on court over the first five rounds of the event.
Time spent on court through five matches at #USOpen:
Zverev – 9:23
Medvedev – 9:47
Djokovic – 13:18 (and counting)
Auger-Aliassime – 14:40
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 9, 2021
Just before this event, we wrote that it’s foolish to say that this year’s draw was easy because Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are missing in action. Because by and large, Djokovic’s difficulties over the previous few years have not come against the pair, but rather against other players. We were saying that while the singles draw may very well turn out to be an easy one, it wouldn’t be for the reason that most folks were explaining.
The bottom line
It turns out that the draw, all things considered, was about as tough as can be expected. It’s all the more impressive that Djokovic has managed to escape unscathed so far.
Novak Djokovic has 26 wins in Grand Slams this year.
He’s lost sets in 14 of those matches (53.8%).
What’s even crazier is out of those 14 matches he’s lost the first set in 9 (64.3%).
Surely can’t afford slow starts against Zverev and potentially Medvedev.
— Jason (@Certinfy) September 9, 2021
Maybe the most underrated part about his 2021 run is that he’s been far from immaculate: he’s lost a set in more than half of his Grand Slam matches. But what he’s done better than anyone is making the correct in-match adjustments, keeping his play and belief high, and staying confident that his best would be enough to sustain anything anyone could throw at him over (up to) five sets.
After 26 matches, that’s held true.
Day 12 preview
Here we are for our predictions on the winners of the men’s semifinals. Read our reasoning below for more info. As always, the full day’s slate of matches is here.
Arthur Ashe Stadium: Felix Auger-Aliassime  vs Daniil Medvedev  (Not before 3pm local time)
There are those who will point out that Felix Auger-Aliassime only made the semifinals when his quarterfinal opponent Carlos Alcaraz withdrew with an injury. But you just need to look at the previous rounds to know how hard he’s had to work, needing four (three tiebreaks), three (one tiebreak), five, and four (one tiebreak) sets to make the quarterfinals. He may be playing on spry legs as the first man ever born in 2000 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal—but he’s earned his spot twice over. But he’s facing a brick wall now. Daniil Medvedev gets the win in four sets.
Arthur Ashe Stadium: Alexander Zverev  vs Novak Djokovic  (First match of the evening)
Look, there is no easy way to say this: the little stunt that Alexander Zverev pulled just as Lloyd Harris was about to serve for the first set in their quarterfinals, where he delayed play because a screen on court (?) was bothering him (????), well that stunt is really wack. It didn’t make him win, but it’s the type of thing that doesn’t endear the German to the masses. (To say nothing of the other thing.) Otherwise, you know, it’s been a rather uneventful US Open for the 24-year-old.
Standing opposite Zverev will be Djokovic, motivated and chasing history. Before their Tokyo Olympics semifinal bout, the Serb had won six matches in a row head-to-head. He’ll be fine. Djokovic wins in four sets.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG