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Djokovic beats Verdasco to reach semis

NOVAK Djokovic appears to have rediscovered his zest for tennis after reaching his third consecutive US Open semi-final yesterday.

The deep-thinking Serb was not at his best in a scrappy 7-6 1-6 7-5 6-2 victory over powerful Spaniard Fernando Verdasco but after a poor showing at the year's three previous grand slams when he sometimes seemed to have the weight of the world on his shoulders the old sparkle appears to have returned.

Not that the match itself was anywhere near as entertaining as his on-court jousting with former champion turned TV pundit John McEnroe on Monday -- nearly 100 unforced errors in a match played in cool, blustery conditions put paid to that.

However, after weathering a mid-match storm in which 10th seed Verdasco's brutal forehand looked like stopping Djokovic dead in his tracks, the former Australian Open champion regained his poise to claim victory in three hours.

"It feels great (to reach the semi-finals)," Djokovic told reporters. "I haven't done that in the past three grand slams this year, so mentally it was very important for me to overcome today's challenge and to be able to win.

"I feel kind of a relief and I hope I just can continue playing well. I feel that I'm enjoying it again much more. It feels like 2007, you know, when I played finals here and did all these crazy things, impersonating the players.

"I like playing here. The surface is quite suitable to my game, the fans, the atmosphere, the entertainment, the show, I like it. And the results that I've made in the past three years show how much enjoyment I have playing here."


Djokovic showed his comic side after beating Radek Stepanek on Monday, displaying his well-known impersonation skills by mocking the fabled McEnroe serve before playing a light-hearted knockabout with the American on Arthur Ashe Court.

It was serious business yesterday as he needed all his dogged defensive skills to stay with Verdasco after dropping his serve three times in a row during a terrible second set.

After losing seven successive games from 1-0 up in the second he then had to fend off a break point in the second game of the third set when another break might have swung the momentum completely in Verdasco's favour.

Watched from the stands by the son of a victim of the World Trade Centre attack in 2001, one of several he has invited along to watch his matches during the tournament, he gradually doused Verdasco's fire.

At 5-5 in the third Verdasco blazed a volley wastefully long to hand Djokovic two break point chances at 15-40 and although he saved them, a dumped forehand did give the Serb a 6-5 lead.

Djokovic served out for a two sets to one lead and with his opponent struggling with an abdominal niggle, he made short work of the fourth with some commanding tennis.

"The dangerous thing about Verdasco is to let him take over the control of the match, because he's physically very strong," Djokovic said. "He stepped it in, played very aggressive, and he deserved that second set.

"I managed to come back, and that's what matters."

Djokovic will face either world number one Roger Federer, the man he lost to in the 2007 final, or Swede Robin Soderling in the last four on Saturday.


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