Novak Djokovic isn't a native New Yorker, but he sure knows how to use the U.S. Open crowd to his advantage.
Exhibit A came when the Serb faced a set point against his serve in his fourth-round match Monday against Philip Kohlschreiber. The German punched a forehand volley into the open court for an apparent winner, but Djokovic came running into the picture and smacked a forehand crosscourt winner to stave off the set point. He then pumped his fists and exhorted the roaring crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
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"It was one of the turning points of the match," the top-seeded Djokovic said after his 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 victory over the No. 22 seed in extremely hot, humid conditions. "If you won that point, won the second set, it's pretty even. So it's a big point, and tried to get the crowd engaged."
It was a treat for the fans in Armstrong, some of whom paid just $68 for a grounds pass, to see the top seed in a smaller, more intimate stadium than Arthur Ashe.
"Not many matches I have played in the last five years on Armstrong Stadium, which was before Ashe the center court of U.S. Open," Djokovic said. "A lot of history there. It's a great court. So I tried to enjoy the experience."
Now coached by former great Boris Becker, Djokovic is into his eighth straight U.S. Open quarterfinal and will face No. 8 Andy Murray in a rematch of their 2012 final won by Murray for his first Grand Slam title. Murray advanced by beating No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-5, 7-5, 6-4.
"He's already has been Grand Slam champion, Wimbledon, US Open, Olympic Games," Djokovic said. "So he has a lot of success behind him and a lot of experience behind him. He knows how to play center court US Open where he played some great tennis and we had some great matches. You know, the last one was in finals in 2012 in five sets. Whoever I play against, it's very tough, tough draw. Gonna have to be playing my highest level in order to advance."
Said Murray: "It's a tough match. We've had a lot of long ones, normally a lot of rallies. We played a long one here a few years ago. ... I hope we can play another top-level match. If I play well, I have a chance."
Coming into the Open, Djokovic struggled on hardcourts, losing early in Toronto and Cincinnati.
He said he was somewhat emotionally flat after a summer in which he won Wimbledon and then got married to his longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic.
"Yeah, I was a bit slow to get into the competition mode," he said at John McEnroe's Tennis Academy before the Open began. "It was a very unique five, six weeks that I had with the wedding and of course winning Wimbledon and getting back to No. 1 of the world and I couldn't ask for more. Really I was extremely fulfilled after I got married and happy with where I am in my life, so when I got back to playing Toronto and Cincinnati, I felt I was emotionally a little bit flat and proably all these events and beautiful experiences got the best out of me emotionally so I needed some time. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to perform my best in the two big tournaments.
"I was aware of what I did wrong and I was aware that I need to recharge, regroup to get on the right path for U.S. Open. This is the most important tournament of this part of the year. It's the last Grand Slam of the season. this is where I want to do well so I've been preparing hard with my team, spending a lot of hours on the court, trying to get my game to where it has to be."
McEnroe picked Djokovic as the favorite to win the title, which would be his eighth Grand Slam singles crown and would cement his position as No. 1 in the world.
"If you ask me who the favorite is, this guy [Djokovic] is the guy who played one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen in my life when him and Roger went at it [in the Wimbledon final],” McEnroe said. “And Roger is playing amazing, so clearly those two are the favorites."
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for coverage throughout the U.S. Open.