US Open Day 5: Djokovic survives, Rybakina stumbles

From start to finish Friday was packed with heroic performances across the grounds.

Novak Djokovic / 3e tour US Open 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Heading into the third round is when a Grand Slam draw truly begins to shape up.

Day 5 at the US Open witnessed plenty of players lay down their marker for a deep run at Flushing Meadows. Here's what you might have missed…

Djokovic taps into wolf mentality

Nights like this the statistics and scoreline go out the window.

Novak Djokovic proved once again you can never count him out. This was a victory of heart and mind, of pure tenacity.

For the eighth time in his trophy-laden career the 36-year-old fought back from two sets down to defeat his fellow-Serbian Laslo Djere 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 with 1:30am on the clock on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

In the past, the world No.2 has spoken about his "wolf mentality" to help him escape from almost every impossible positions. Time for some soul searching when he left the court after the second set, having been completely outplayed by the poised and composed Djere.

"I did a little pep talk in the mirror. I kind of laughed at myself because I was so p**sed off and agitated with the result and my game," admitted Djokovic. "I had to force myself, to lift the spirits up. I've done it a few times in my career, tonight it worked and I'm grateful."

Into the fourth round for the 15th time, the three-time US Open champion fired a warning shot to his title rivals.

"I think the message is sent to the rest of the field that obviously I'm still able to play five sets deep at night," declared Djokovic, meeting qualifier Borna Gojo in the Last 16. 

"Coming from two sets down always sends a strong message to the future opponents. At the same time, I'm not really wanting to be in this position. Hopefully I can get back on that track in the next match."

Shot of the day

The precarious position Djokovic found himself in was mainly down to some sensational ball striking from world No. 38 Djere.

“It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played here in many years,” added Djokovic. “Huge, huge credit to Laslo, who played some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play... Trust me it was nerve wracking right until the very end."

Take a look for yourself with this shot in the video below.

Shock of the day

Sorana Cirstea made her US Open debut back in 2008 and at the 15th attempt has scored a Last 16 ticket in the Big Apple.

The 30th seed had to work for it, fending off 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-4 to erase third round heartache in 2009, 2019-20.

“I'm very, very happy with the win today. I’ve lost twice against her before, and she’s a very good player, No.4 in the world, and I knew it was going to be a tough battle,” said Cirstea, who fired 33 winners to gain victory. "It’s a great moment for me.”

The Romanian will seek to prolong her 59th Grand Slam main draw in battle with 15th seed Belinda Bencic. The Olympic gold medallist defeated China's Zhu Lin 7-6(1), 2-6, 6-3.

Generations to collide 

There were plenty of nail-biting moments for the ardent home support, but Coco Gauff bounced back 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 to dismiss Belgian Elise Mertens.

In doing so, the No.6 seed will take on 2009 and 2014 finalist Caroline Wozniacki.

“A matchup I thought I would never have to play,” said Gauff. “When she retired (2020), I said in an interview that I wish I would have played her. And my wish came true.”

Former world No.1 Wozniacki's compelling comeback after a three-year stint on maternity leave continued with a gutsy 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 scoreboard with Jennifer Brady.

"Coco, what an amazing couple of months she had," stated the 33-year-old, who revealed her close friend Serena Williams tuned in to watch her victory.

"I love playing in front of a big crowd. I love playing on the big stadiums. That's exciting to me. That's why I'm still playing.

"At the end of the day it's pretty cool that I get to live my passion and be a mom and kind of wear many hats. I'm very proud of that."

Swiatek sweeps aside close ally

There is potentially pulsating quarter-final ahead with Gauff or Wozniacki pitched against world No.1 Iga Swiatek.

The reigning champion was in devastating form once again to dismantle her "best friend on tour" Kaja Juvan 6-0, 6-1 in just 49 minutes.

However, the Pole must navigate past the unpredictable firepower of 2017 Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko to reach the second week.

The Latvian, who ousted Bernarda Pera from a set down, holds a 3-0 record against Swiatek. Their most recent clash went down to the wire 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) in Dubai last year.

"I learned a lot during these past two years how to play on faster hard courts and how to play against heavy hitters," mused Swiatek.

"With Jelena, it's a little bit like one day she can play a perfect match and just put everything in even though she's really risking, and the other day you never know what to expect. 

"But I kind of accept that, all these players they are going to play the best tennis against me. I felt that couple times already."

Over to Ostapenko for her say on this popcorn match-up.

"For sure it's going to be a difficult match. On the other hand, I have nothing to lose and I'm already in the fourth round," said the 26-year-old.

"She's playing quite consistent. She's winning a lot of matches. It's also not easy to be No.1 because everybody obviously wants to beat you. I probably will take advantage of that."

Made in the USA

The home fans are having plenty to cheer about at Flushing Meadows.

With Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul and Ben Shelton all plotting paths through, it marks the first time since 2011 that four American men have reached the US Open fourth round.

Should Michael Mmoh make it five men on Saturday, over the net from Brit Jack Draper, it will be the most since eight did so in 1995!

2022 semi-finalist Tiafoe has been motivated by his peers.

"You see guys do certain things, it makes you believe it, right? The guys you grew up with, rubbed shoulders with," said the 10th seed, with Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata his next tussle. 

"You see them do well, you're like, 'Wow, if this guy is doing it, what's wrong with me? Why can't I do it?'

"It's kind of a domino effect after that."

Tiafoe put on a show to edge Adrian Mannarino in four sets, booking his fourth straight US Open fourth round ticket. The last American to accomplish that feat was a certain Andre Agassi in 2002-05.

Back in the Australian Open 2023 quarter-finals, Paul edged Shelton in a four-set sizzler. They'll reunite at their home major in the Last 16.

Paul found the answers in four sets over against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Shelton cracked down 26 aces to help defy Aslan Karatsev in four sets too.

No.1 American Fritz wasted no time or energy, dismissing Czech teenager Jakub Mensik 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 to post his finest US Open showing to date.

Fritz will face another qualifier in the fourth round, after Dominic Stricker's dream US Open debut continued in a five-set triumph over Benjamin Bonzi.