Flushing Meadows, New York, Aug 28 (efe-epa).- Serbian world No. 1 Novak Djokovic overcame a late third-set deficit to edge Roberto Bautista Agut 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) on Friday and reach the final of the Western & Southern Open.
In a match that featured constant momentum swings, Djokovic lost many of the baseline rallies against the Spaniard early on at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the New York City borough of Queens en route to dropping his first set of the tournament.
Djokovic also appeared lethargic early in the second set and repeatedly received treatment on his neck from the trainer on changeovers.
The world No. 1 managed to grab a 4-1 lead with a service break but continued to struggle in the rallies against his rock-solid opponent, who got back on serve – and left the Serbian sprawled out on the court – when he chased down a drop shot and shoveled a forehand winner down the line on break point in the seventh game.
Djokovic was far from his best level, but he was always able to recover from deficits against an opponent who is steady and tenacious but lacked the firepower to consistently hold serve against the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
The Serbian started finding his range from the baseline just in time to hold serve for a 5-4 lead and then capture the second set with a service break.
Although Djokovic went down a service break early in the decider, he then appeared to have the match in his pocket when he reeled off four straight games to turn a 1-2 deficit into a 5-2 lead.
But the roller-coaster match took another odd turn when Bautista-Agut broke the suddenly out-of-sorts Djokovic twice in a row to grab a 6-5 lead and earned a chance to serve out the contest.
Djokovic was staring at his first loss of the coronavirus-interrupted 2020 season, but he managed to win some key rallies to break serve for the sixth time in the match and then wrapped up the contest by blanking the Spaniard in the third-set tiebreaker.
“(It was a) very strange match, I must say. I don’t know how I won it, to be honest. He was the better player,” Djokovic was quoted as saying afterward by the ATP Tour’s website. “I just didn’t feel good on the court at all, in any aspect of my game and of the body. But somehow, I managed to pull this one through.”
Next up in Saturday’s final will be big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who topped Greek world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 on Friday and is currently playing at a level that belies his No. 30 ranking.
Djokovic certainly will need to do a better job of controlling his service games against Raonic, who struck 12 aces, won 90 percent of his first-serve points and saved the lone break point he faced in his semifinal match.
In women’s singles action on Friday at the Western & Southern Open, Japanese world No. 10 Naomi Osaka defeated Belgium’s Elise Mertens 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) and will square off in Saturday’s final against Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, who rallied for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over the United Kingdom’s Johanna Konta.
The men’s and women’s semifinal round had been scheduled to be played on Thursday.
But the USTA, ATP Tour and WTA said in a joint statement that tennis was “collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice” after a 29-year-old African-American man was shot several times in the back last Sunday by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The Western & Southern Open is normally played outside Cincinnati, Ohio, but to reduce unnecessary travel amid the coronavirus pandemic it is being held this year at the same venue as the US Open, a hard-court Grand Slam event that gets under way on Aug. 31. EFE-EPA