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Novak Djokovic comes back after dropping the first 2 sets to beat Laslo Djere at the US Open

Sep 1, 2023, 9:52 PM | Updated: 10:50 pm

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, returns a shot to Laslo Djere, of Serbia, during the third round of the ...

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, returns a shot to Laslo Djere, of Serbia, during the third round of the U.S. Open tennis championships, Friday, Sept. 1, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK (AP) — Everyone should know by now to never count out Novak Djokovic. No matter how big a deficit he faces. No matter how poorly he might be playing.

And so it made sense that Djokovic would manage to come all the way back from a two-set deficit to beat Laslo Djere 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in the third round of the U.S. Open, avoiding what would have been his earliest exit there since 2006.

“Trust me,” Djokovic said, “it was nerve-racking all the way until the last shot.”

The match began under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night and did not wrap up until more than 3 1/2 hours later, concluding just after 1:30 a.m.

It was Djokovic’s eighth career victory after dropping the opening two sets of a match. He also improved to 38-11 in five-setters over his career.

One he seized control, he held on tight and never let Djere recover. In the crucible of a fifth set, Djokovic was cool as can be, collecting 12 of the initial 14 points to leave no doubt how this would go.

Djokovic has won three of his men’s-record 23-time Grand Slam titles at Flushing Meadows and been the runner-up a half-dozen times, including in 2021. The 36-year-old from Serbia did not compete in the U.S. Open last year because he couldn’t travel to the United States as a foreigner who is not vaccinated against COVID-19; that rule was lifted this May.

Djokovic is seeded No. 2 in New York behind Carlos Alcaraz, and pretty much everyone has been expecting the two of them to meet for the championship on Sept. 10. That would be a rematch of their riveting final at Wimbledon in July, which Alcaraz won in five sets.

That appeared as if it might be derailed by Djere, a 28-year-old who is also from Serbia and was seeded 32nd in New York.

This would have been by far the biggest victory of his career: He was trying to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time and came into Friday with an 0-6 record at majors against opponents ranked in the Top 10.

Perhaps the intimidation factor that favors Djokovic in most matchups simply wasn’t there on this cool evening — at least at the start. The countrymen have known each other for years, practicing together, spending time as Davis Cup teammates and competing on tour as a doubles pairing.

When it ended, they met at the net for a hug.

Djokovic applauded as Djere walked off the court.

“I didn’t have much options in the beginning, but in the third, I kind of lifted myself up,” Djokovic said. “Once I got the break in the third, I thought, ’OK. I have a shot. I have a chance. I might as well go after it. … I started to read his game mroe than I did in the first two sets.”

___

AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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Novak Djokovic comes back after dropping the first 2 sets to beat Laslo Djere at the US Open