Maturing Djokovic getting better and better at Open

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic said he was growing into his role as a grand slam contender and playing his best tennis of the year just at the right time in his bid for a first U.S. Open title.

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The third seed, a semi-finalist at Flushing Meadows for the last two years and runner-up in 2007, scored his easiest win of the championships on Monday with a 6-3 6-4 6-1 romp over American Mardy Fish that earned him a berth in the quarter-finals.

“It’s very encouraging fact at this stage of the tournament that I’m raising my game and feeling more comfortable on the court,” said Djokovic, 23. “I played a great match today.

“I was using my serve in important moments extremely well and opening the court and not giving him enough chances to come to the net and be aggressive.”

Djokovic, who sometimes has trouble breathing due to allergies and has struggled in the past in the heat, pronounced himself fully prepared for second-week play at the year’s last grand slam.

“Physically I feel very fit, and mentally I’m very focused on the court,” said the 2008 Australian Open champion.

The Serbian lost a five-setter in the Australian Open quarters this year to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France and fell in five sets at the same stage of the French Open to Austrian Jurgen Melzer.

At Wimbledon, he was eliminated in the semi-finals by Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Djokovic reached the U.S. Open final in 2007 as a 20-year-old and said pressures had mounted over the last few years as expectations rose.

“At that time I ... just didn’t care much about pressure or anything and didn’t know what’s pressure and expectations. Just hitting the ball, being very aggressive and open minded,” he said.

“I think a lot of us wish to have this kind of attitude on the court ... but on the other hand, the positives of me as a player today is that I have more experience, I’m stronger, I just played so many matches on the big stage. I still enjoy. I still enjoy very much enjoy what I do.”

Djokovic said the learning process had made him stronger mentally, and was still continuing.

“I know that I have some things to improve on -- being more efficient serve and getting into the net and using some chances to make the points short,” he added.

“This is what I want to do to have some variety in the game. Right now in this moment I’m feeling very good on the court, and this is as well as I have played this year.”

Editing by Nick Mulvenney