NEW YORK: World n.1 Novak Djokovic reached his 26th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals on Sunday (Monday in Manila) but only after surviving a US Open scare against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
The 2011 champion won 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to set-up a clash against Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez in what will also be his ninth US Open last-eight place in a row.
Djokovic gave up a 4-2 lead in the second set and saw an early break clawed back in the fourth by the 23rd seeded Agut, a former junior footballer with Villarreal in Spain.
The Serb was also broken when serving for the match at 5-2 as Agut unleashed a barrage of deep, murderous forehands before steadying himself to claim his 60th win of the year.
“He fought and hung in there. It was a great match,” said Djokovic, who hit 42 winners but also committed 37 unforced errors.
“I had a couple of points to break for 5-2 in the second set but I didn’t capitalize and the match turned around.
“He made me work for it—there were no free points.”
Lopez, 33, reached his first US Open quarterfinals at the 14th attempt with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 win over Italy’s Fabio Fognini, the conqueror of Rafael Nadal in the previous round.
“Lopez is not the typical Spanish player. He comes into the net on first and second serve. He serves and volleys, uses a lot of slice,” said Djokovic.
Lopez, the 18th seed, said Djokovic will hold the cards having won all of the pair’s five meetings.
The Spanish left-hander has only ever taken one set off Djokovic and that was in their first meeting at the 2007 Australian Open.
“I will be 34 in September so it’s a great feeling to be playing like this and reaching my first US Open quarterfinals,” he said.
‘I could never play my brother’
Djokovic tipped his hat to Serena and Venus Williams ahead of their 27th career meeting but admitted Sunday he would find it impossible to play his own brother.
The world no.1 has two tennis-playing younger brothers — 24-year-old Marko and Djorde, who’s 20.
Both play on the sport’s lower-level tours, which suits Djokovic just fine.
That’s a luxury, which neither Serena nor Venus can afford and they clash again on Tuesday for a place in the US Open semifinals with Serena chasing a calendar Grand Slam.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is how would I feel to play my brother, and I don’t think that would be possible, honestly,” said Djokovic after reaching his 26th Grand Slam quarterfinals Sunday in New York.
“In a way I admire what they’re doing for so many years to play against each other on such a big stage. It’s strange. They are sisters. They live together. They grew up together playing tennis.
“But I don’t know if I’ll be able to play my brother. It’s not possible. I would not be able to handle it on the court.”