Alexander Zverev covered his face with his hands and threw his head back momentarily as he began the walk back down the corridor from Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night. It was the realisation he had gone the distance with Novak Djokovic and ultimately came up short in his bid to halt the World No. 1’s pursuit of history after three hours and 38 minutes.

A year ago, he came within two points of capturing his first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows only for Dominic Thiem to prevail in five sets. On Friday night, while he did not come quite so close, the mountain again proved too big to climb as Djokovic pulled clear 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

“It was a great battle. Kind of a little bit disappointed with the start of the fifth set. To be honest, apart from that, it was a good match. I think we both left it all out there,” Zverev said. “The second break in the fifth set was so ridiculously unlucky that it sometimes happen. But he’s No. 1 in the world for a reason and he showed that tonight.”

Having foiled the Serbian’s bid for the Golden Slam in 2021 with his victory from a set and a break down in the Tokyo Olympics semi-final, the German was confident he could repeat the feat at Flushing Meadows. Following his run to the gold medal and victory in Cincinnati, Zverev was on a 16-match winning streak to the semi-finals.

He had dropped only one set en route this campaign – in the third round against Jack Sock – and came within a set of becoming the first man since Djokovic in 2015-16 to reach consecutive US Open finals. Zverev admitted the edge his opponent held on Friday night came down to his mental toughness on the biggest points.

“He comes up with the best tennis when he needs to. We play 55-shot rallies. The only way for me to win that rally is to hit a forehand winner. That says it all, on a set point [down],” Zverev said.

“There is a reason why he’s won 20 Grand Slams. There’s a reason why he’s spent the most weeks at World No. 1. There’s a lot of reasons for that.

“I think mentally he’s the best player to ever play the game. Mentally in the most important moments I would rather play against anybody else but him.”

The 24-year-old expected his conqueror to complete the Grand Slam in Sunday’s final against second seed Daniil Medvedev. “Nobody thought anybody will do it again, what Rod Laver did. To see him have the chance on Sunday – I do believe that he will do it – is great. He’s breaking every single record that there is,” Zverev said.

“If you look at the stats, if you look at the pure game of tennis action, he’s the greatest of all time. Nobody is there with him, because most weeks World No. 1, most ATP Masters 1000 titles, most likely going to be the most Grand Slams at the end of the day. And he has the chance of winning all four in the same year. How do you compete with that?”

Source: Tennis – ATP World Tour