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Djokovic digs in to beat Dolgopolov

ESPN staff
September 5, 2011 « Serena too strong for Ivanovic | Chartbeat test »
Novak Djokovic celebrates after taking the first set © Getty Images
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Novak Djokovic came through his sternest test of the US Open to date, as he was made to fight through an epic first set before claiming a 7-6(14) 6-4 6-2 win over Alexandr Dolgopolov.

The Ukrainian produced some inspired tennis in the opening set and he passed up a string of set points. Djokovic was on the ropes for much of the opening set, but rode out the storm and sapped the life out his rival in the second and third sets to claim his place in the quarter finals.

For the first time since the French Open, aside from his retirement due to injury against Andy Murray in Cincinnati, Djokovic appeared fallible as he was put under real pressure by the unorthodox play of Dolgopolov.

The Ukrainian used a slice backhand that looked like it was forged while wielding an axe, and it produced some crazy spin, while his forehand fired missiles - not all of which found the target. But as a package it provided Djokovic with a stern test.

The world No. 1 was clearly unsettled as he served a double fault at 2-2 to hand a break to Dolgopolov, but the 22nd seed promptly threw in a truly awful service game to give the break back.

For all the amazing tennis that was served up in the opening 12 games, it paled in comparison to what went on in the tiebreak. Dolgopolov fired a raft of winners on both wings, his slice was in sync, and it all helped him race into a 4-0 lead. He had a chance to go 5-0 as a Djokovic backhand hit the net and flew up and over the net. The Ukrainian tracked the ball down and had a great chance to put the ball away but went for too cute an angle and dumped the ball in the net.

The momentum then flowed Djokovic's way as a couple of sloppy errors put the score back to 4-4. Points were traded by both players, Dolgopolov ripping forehands and then firing them over the baseline and Djokovic crafting chances only to pull forehands wide of the target.

Dolgopolov saved a set point with a quite amazing touch volley that caught the line and did so again with a brilliant point, somehow retrieving a drop shot and then putting away a smash, but he could not sustain the challenge and threw a forehand over the baseline to hand Djokovic the set.

After the adrenaline rush of a 30-point tiebreak you sensed there would be a comedown and Dolgopolov lost his serve in the opening game of the second set. A second break swiftly followed to suggest a landslide, but the Ukrainian dug in to break back and had chances to claim a second break but Djokovic weathered the storm to take a two-set lead.

The start of the third set mirrored the second, with Djokovic racing out and taking an immediate break. And it proved the end of resistance from Dolgopolov who threw a tired forehand wide to hand a double break to his opponent who put the lid on the jack in a box by closing out the match.

Djokovic will meet his fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the last eight after he brought an end to the fine run of Juan Carlos Ferrero, triumphing 7-5 6-7(3) 7-5 6-2.

Eleventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsong produced a dramatic five-set victory over in-form American hope Mardy Fish 6-4 6(5)-7 3-6 6-4 6-2. The Frenchman bounced back from a terrible run during the third set to defeat the eighth seed in a match filled with both unforced errors and spectacular winners.

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