US Open: Novak Djokovic earns straightforward win over John Millman in high-quality encounter

US Open: Novak Djokovic earns straightforward win over John Millman in high-quality encounter

Only three sets were needed but Novak Djokovic dug deep to defeat the unseeded John Millman in the quarterfinals of the 2018 US Open, with just one break separating both players in each and every set.

don-han
Don Han

Novak Djokovic is set for a long-awaited return to the top four after an impressive stretch of results, reaching his 11th consecutive US Open semifinal with a terrific straight-sets win over the unheralded and surprise package John Millman, clinching the outstanding victory in the marathon two-hour, 48-minute encounter to seal the last spot in the last four.

Having been sidelined for six months in 2017 due to an elbow injury, Djokovic’s comeback started slowly but owned a destructive 24-2 win-loss record after reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. As things stand, the Serbian is also placed second in the Race to London rankings, being on course to compete for the top spot towards the closing stages of the year.

Djokovic roars in delight after the win | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America
Djokovic roars in delight after the win | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

Millman had a career breakthrough run here at Flushing Meadows, defeating 14th seed Fabio Fognini in the second round before producing a magnificent and stunning comeback to come out of nowhere and defeat 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer from a set and a break down to triumph in four tough sets. This was the Australian’s debut appearance in the second week of a Major while his first-ever quarterfinal appearance at the US Open will ensue a new career-high ranking of 37 for the 29-year-old.

Djokovic will now face a familiar foe in Kei Nishikori, fighting for a place in the final. This is a repeat of their 2014 US Open encounter in the exact same round, and the Japanese will look to replicate that result and storm into his second Major final. However, Djokovic will avoid being Nishikori’s seventh top-10 victim in New York as the top-ranked Asian player owns a commanding 6-1 head-to-head record over top-10 players here.

Djokovic and Millman share a warm embrace after the match | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America
Djokovic and Millman share a warm embrace after the match | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

Millman gets off to a slow start and wasteful on his chances

It was a fast start for Djokovic, who was certainly the more experienced player at this stage of a Grand Slam. The Serbian took advantage of Millman’s nervous unforced errors and managed to break serve in his first return game before consolidating for an early 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye. Millman managed to shake off some of his nerves with a confident hold from 0-30 down but put himself in deep trouble in the sixth game once more.

Facing the risk of trailing by a double-break deficit, Millman’s best tennis rose up to the occasion and he attempted to make this a competitive match with a good hold, saving two break points before storming to a 0-30 lead in the following game. That was the first real opportunity for the underdog to break back, but impressive serving from Djokovic saved himself from the brink and put himself just one game away from taking the first set.

It was an impressive display from Djokovic amid the slight wobble in the third set | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America
It was an impressive display from Djokovic amid the slight wobble in the third set | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

For the first time in the match, the world number six, who is slated to return to the top-four after the tournament, faced a break point while serving out the first set. A huge forehand winner helped to save the break point and Millman would rue his missed chances as a forehand return into the net allowed Djokovic to grab the opening set 6-3 after an hour of high-quality play.

Djokovic storms to the huge lead

Djokovic was having everything going in his way but Millman impressively retrieved from a 0-40 deficit to hold serve narrowly in the opening game of the second set, putting his opponent’s momentum to an abrupt halt. The series of service holds continued but it was once again the Serbian who inched closer than ever to break. However, consecutive forehand winners by the Australian allowed him to remain level on the scoreboard.

It was a stunning run from Millman, who put in such a competitive performance against the former world number one | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America
It was a stunning run from Millman, who put in such a competitive performance against the former world number one | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

Nerves gradually crept in and Millman’s game collapsed during the crucial moments. He nearly dug through another tough service game but ultimately, Djokovic was third-time lucky as the world number 55 threw in an unfortunate double-fault to hand the break. Without any hassle, Djokovic earned a routine service hold and comfortably served out the two-set lead.

Djokovic overcomes mid-match wobble and serves out the win

Securing the early break, the win seemed inevitable for the unstoppable for Djokovic. The world number six was extremely wasteful on his chances as his break point conversion rate of the entire match stood at 4/20. He earned the golden opportunity to broaden his lead but Millman remained calm and composed to hold for a 2-3 deficit. Just when Djokovic seemed unbeatable, the 25-second serve clock seemed to have other ideas.

Djokovic claims the win in three sets and will face Nishikori next | Photo: Jaime Lawson/Getty Images North America
Djokovic claims the win in three sets and will face Nishikori next | Photo: Jaime Lawson/Getty Images North America

A time violation spoiled Djokovic’s mood and he served a double-fault to hand Millman a break point, the first he conceded since the first set. Millman dutifully converted the chance and all of a sudden, he found himself leading 4-3 on the scoreboard after clinching six consecutive points. Being an acclaimed Major champion, Djokovic managed to bounce back in the most impressive fashion — closing out the win having won three consecutive games and rattling off 12 of the last 15 points to grab the confident victory.

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