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Djokovic Owns Americans—And Values Their Resurgence

By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Don't let his heart-sharing celebration and smiling selfies with fans fool you.

Despite his post-match benevolence, the court is Novak Djokovic's octagon and he continues knocking out Americans with ruthless resolve.

More: Djokovic Roars Past Rublev

The 21-time Grand Slam champion has left an assortment of American men red, white and bruised in his wake.

The fourth-seeded Djokovic rides a 26-match winning streak against American opponents into his Australian Open semifinal showdown against American Tommy Paul.

Continuing his quest for a record-extending 10th AO championship, Djokovic is fueled by a 26-match winning streak in Melbourne Park, which equals the Open Era record set by Hall of Famer and former Novak coaching consultant Andre Agassi.

Tennis Express

The last time an American defeated Djokovic, Tom Brady was Super Bowl champion Patriot and Serena Williams would win Wimbledon.

It happened two days before the Fourth of July, 2016 when Sam Querrey slammed 31 aces scoring a seismic 7-6 (6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) Wimbledon third-round upset of reigning champion Djokovic on Court No. 1.

On that day, the 28th-seeded Querrey denied Djokovic's bid for the calendar Grand Slam snapping the Serbian's streak of 30 straight Grand Slam victories and ending his run of four consecutive major championships.

Since that defeat, Djokovic has beaten all U.S. comers.

An overwhelming Djokovic has been untouchable against Americans though Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, a North American, did upset the former world No. 1 at Laver Cup in London last September. Djokovic denied a championship point defeating Sebastian Korda in the Adelaide International 1 final earlier this month to collect his 92nd career title.

Still, Djokovic surveys an American rise that saw Taylor Fritz defeat Rafael Nadal to win the 2022 Indian Wells, Frances Tiafoe topple Nadal en route to his maiden major semifinal at the US Open, lefty human highlight reel Ben Shelton reach the AO quarterfinals in his first trip outside America and Paul play some of the most dynamic tennis of his career to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne and understands why U.S. fans are pumped up for the future.

The 35-year-old Serbian superstar says U.S. success and the American market is "extremely important" because the nation hosts the US Open as well as three Masters tournaments in Indian Wells, Miami and Cincinnati.

The man who grew up looking up to American champion Pete Sampras as his tennis hero, says when Americans are playing meaningful matches it strengthens the sport.

"We have some of the biggest tournaments in the world played there, in the North American continent," Djokovic said. "I think it is important that we see successful American men and women doing well.

"America is producing historically always top players. Now you have a list of maybe four or five young players that are knocking on the door of the top level. I think that's great for our sport.

"We want to see young, successful players that are coming from big country like America, of course."

In an all-American quarterfinal, the 35th-ranked Paul defeated 20-year-old NCAA champion Ben Shelton to reach his first major semifinal and become the first American man since Andy Roddick in 2009 to reach the final four at Melbourne Park.

Former No. 1 Roddick, who beat Djokovic in five of nine meetings, is one of the few Americans with a winning record against the nine-time AO champion.

The 2003 US Open champion Roddick remains the last American man to raise a Grand Slam singles title trophy.

The 25-year-old Paul says this current corp of American men are playing for themselves and something bigger—to put U.S. men's tennis back on the major map.

"Yeah, it's important to me. American tennis is, since I was young, that's all we've been hearing, since like 14 years old," Paul said. "The coaches have been telling us, We need new Americans, we need new Americans. It's kind of engraved in my head.

"We all want to perform. Obviously Frances was pretty damn close at US Open to getting past the semis. Who knows what would have happened in the finals. Yeah, I mean, I think we all want it pretty bad for ourselves, but we want it for U.S. tennis, too."

The challenge Paul poses comes from his all-court acumen, quickness around the court, ability to take the ball on the rise and a strong kick serve that can help him set up first-strike chances.

Djokovic, who calls Paul "a very complete player," is aiming to keep his AO winning streak and American dominance thriving down under.

"I know how he plays. I never faced him on the court," Djokovic said of Paul. "He's been around for a few years. I watched him play quite a bit, especially during this tournament. He's been playing probably tennis of his life.

"Very explosive, very dynamic player. Quick, very solid backhand. Likes to step in, dictate the point with the forehand. Great, great service motion. I think he can hit all the spots with the serve. Very complete player. He's got the coach that has been around with some top players for many years.

"First semifinals for him, so of course he doesn't have much to lose. I'm sure he's going to go out trying to play his best tennis."

Photo credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty