The third game came only four points short of one of the all-time classics — the 18-16 tiebreaker John McEnroe won over Bjorn Borg in the fourth set of the 1980 Wimbledon final. Sometimes lost in that retelling is that Borg overcame that heartbreak to win the fifth set, much the way Djokovic overcame Game 3 to pull out this fifth set.
“Even though I lost that game, I felt like, ‘OK, he’s getting a little bit more tired and maybe this is my chance to step in,’” Djokovic said.
The question now is whether Djokovic can recover for his final in time. He’ll have at least one thing in his favor: This year, the U.S. Open broke with its tradition of playing the men’s semifinal and final on back-to-back days, which gives Djokovic an extra day of rest.
But this was a grind, much like his five-set win over Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals on the grass at Wimbledon in July. He returned two days after that one against Andy Murray and, clearly tired, tried to close out points at the net in what turned out to be a three-set loss.
“Hard court is my most successful surface,” Djokovic said. “This is where I can say I feel most comfortable and confident. Hopefully, I can perform better than I did in the Wimbledon final and maybe get a chance to win a trophy.”