NEW YORK — Playing terrific defense and catching lines with his shots all night long, defending U.S. Open champion Novak Djokovic beat 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-4 on Thursday to reach the semifinals at a 10th consecutive Grand Slam tournament.
The showcase matchup was compelling throughout, and closer than the scoreline indicated.
The thrilling second set lasted 84 minutes – 11 more than Djokovic’s entire first-round victory last week.
The second-seeded Serb will face fourth-seeded David Ferrer on Saturday. Ferrer advanced to his fourth career major semifinal by using his high-energy brand of leg-churning, ball-chasing tennis to outlast eighth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in 4 hours, 31 minutes.
Ferrer trailed 4-1 in the last set, but in the next game, Tipsarevic slammed to the ground while chasing a drop shot and stayed down for a few moments. Tipsarevic later had his right thigh taped up.
Ferrer, also a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows in 2007, has won four consecutive five-setters and is 17-9 overall.
When the match ended on Tipsarevic’s backhand into the net, Ferrer raised his arms, then knelt near the baseline. The weary foes met at the net for a hug.
“I don’t have words,” said Ferrer, who reached the semifinals at the French Open in June. “It was a very emotional match.”
Might have been the best of these two weeks so far, filled with twists and turns and plenty of theater.
Olympic champion Andy Murray and 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych – who eliminated 17-time major champion Roger Federer in four sets – earned their semifinal berths Wednesday.
Ferrer is the only man left who has never reached a Grand Slam final.
He had various issues Thursday, including a dispute over a line call early in the fifth, and a bothersome toe on his right foot that a trainer worked on in the third – removing Ferrer’s sneaker and sock and using a pair of nail clippers to help fix things. At another changeover, Ferrer gestured wildly while exhorting himself between bites of a banana.
The 28-year-old Tipsarevic was playing in only his second quarterfinal in 35 career Grand Slam tournaments. He reached that round in New York a year ago, too, but stopped playing because of a left leg injury while trailing his Davis Cup teammate and good pal Djokovic.
On Thursday, he hit one shot by thrusting his racket around his back and closed another point by doing the splits while flipping up a lob.
“It was a really, really tough match,” Ferrer said. “Janko <0x2014> he’s an amazing player ... and he also deserves to win today.”
Until now, Tipsarevic might have been best known not for his skills with a racket but rather for the large tattoos in Japanese lettering on his arms. The one on the left borrows a line from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”: “Beauty will save the world.”