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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, September 9, 2021


Hall of Famer John McEnroe on why he backs Novak Djokovic to complete the calendar Grand Slam this weekend—and rule the Grand Slam record book.

Photo credit: Laver Cup Facebook

Major multi-tasker Novak Djokovic isn't only hunting history at this US Open—he's determined to rewrite it.

Hall of Famer John McEnroe has enjoyed a prime-time seat in the ESPN broadcast booth watching Djokovic chase tennis immortality with admiration and a little bit of awe.

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World No. 1 Djokovic now stands two wins from capturing his fourth US Open, joining Rod Laver as the second man in Open Era history to complete the calendar Slam and capturing his record 21st Grand Slam title. Djokovic will face fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, who won 10 of the last 11 games toppling Djokovic in the Tokyo Olympic Games en route to the gold medal.

McEnroe believes the all-court acumen and hard-core hunger Djokovic showed in his quarterfinal conquest of Matteo Berrettini in last night's US Open quarterfinals are signs the top-seeded Serbian is determined to "obliterate" the men's Grand Slam mark—and eventually surpass 24-time Grand Slam champion Margaret Court as the all-time major champion.

"Novak wants to obliterate this record," McEnroe told Tennis Now today at an event to promote the Johnny Mac Tennis Project at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall's Island. "You can see him winning two to four more majors. I feel like he saves his best for last; he gets stronger as the tournament goes on. Of course he's human, but doesn't look like he's wearing down. The way he played against Berrettini the last three sets last night was his best tennis of the tournament.

“I said before Wimbledon started that he was going to win the Grand Slam. I felt like he was going to lose at the Olympics. The two-out-of-three format, just excessive travel, no fans, et cetera, I think contributed [to his Olympic loss]. I still think he's going to do it. It's easier said than done. There's a reason it hasn't been done in 50 something years. It's tough. It's really tough. We'll see how he handles it. He handles it about as well as anyone I've ever seen in the last five, 10 years of his career. I think he's ready for the moment."

Djokovic and world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev could meet in Sunday's US Open final. McEnroe calls Medvedev "a chessmaster" on court capable of "thinking two or three shots ahead" yet still executing the shot at hand.

Two years If the world's top two meet in Sunday's US Open final, McEnroe says he expects the raucous New York crowd to be split 50-50 with many fans supporting Djokovic's bid to complete the calendar Slam while others will be fully behind Medvedev after his heroic effort bowing to Nadal in the five-set 2019 final.

"I think the crowd would be at least 50-50," McEnroe told Tennis Now. "I think people want to see history. They know Novak is on the verge of doing something very special and want to see it...

"Medvedev and Zverev are the best movers of guys six-foot-six and above I've ever seen in my life. They [Djokovic and Medvedev] are two different styles. When I saw Medvedev play Djokovic at the 2019 Australian Open and he's playing 20, 30 ball rallies, I thought 'this guy is out of his mind.' But he knows how to maximize his game. He win a lot of free points on his serve." 

Forty years ago, McEnroe made history as the last man to sweep singles and doubles title at the same US Open. McEnroe believes to breakthrough and win a maiden major, Medvedev must be willing to move in from his traditionally deep court positioning to pose pressure at times.

"To win majors, Medvedev has to come in, in my opinion," McEnroe told Tennis Now. "He hasn't done that at times when he's had opportunities. He's starting to do that now. We know how dangerous he can be."

Still, McEnroe sees Djokovic seizing tennis immortality.

"The biggest obstacle is the pressure," McEnroe said. "Sasha [Zverev] has a huge serve and beat him in the Olympics in best two-out-of-three so it won't be easy.

"But look last night, Novak loses the opening set to Berrettini and comes back and plays great. It shows you how strong he is. He's playing on a very high level and it feels like he wants it more than the guys he's playing do."

McEnroe took time out to hit with the some of the top juniors at his academy as well as the media to promote the The Johnny Mac Tennis Project.

The Johnny Mac Tennis Project (JMTP) changes young lives by removing the racial, economic and social barriers to success through tennis. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Hall of Famer McEnroe and others JMTP introduces the sport of tennis as a life-long health, fitness and social activity to thousands of under-resourced New York City area children.

For a smaller group of dedicated young athletes, JMTP provides a pathway to success through competitive tennis, leading to college scholarships, careers in the industry, and, for a few, professional tennis careers and, perhaps, Grand Slam titles. Learn more:

Djokovic's 2021 season will be a tennis tutorial for future generations, McEnroe said.

“I'm absolutely amazed at his ability to improve, not only technically on a court, but also just as a human being," McEnroe said, "He's able to find sort of some sense of peace while you're out there competing at the highest level. I think it will be lessons that people will be looking at for the next 10, 20 years.”


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