He depended on his hometown friends, a group of whom have been in NY throughout the fortnight to lead cheers in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and worked his way back to the final at his favorite ATP Tour event.
His opponent? Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 Open champ, whose own comeback story is arguably even more compelling than Djokovic's.
Djokovic and del Potro have squared off 18 times but never in a major final.
He also became just the second man - after Federer - to win three or more titles at three separate Slams and the seventh to win at least three US Opens.
And Djokovic interrupted his on-court interview to congratulate world No 3 Del Potro on reaching the final despite his defeat.
"When I had my surgery I could truly understand what Juan Martin was going through when he had surgeries that kept him away from the tour for two or three years", added Djokovic.
Djokovic was better than del Potro on their many lengthy exchanges, using his trademark body-twisting, limb-splaying court coverage to get to almost every ball, sneakers squeaking around the blue court in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the roof was closed because of rain.
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Djokovic began the second set in the same vein applying enormous pressure on Del Potro's serve.
"I want to say Pete, I love you, you're my idol", said Djokovic of Sampras. Both players settled for a tie-break in which the 31-year-old Serb rallied from 3-1 down, winning six of the next seven points, to win a mammoth set in 95 minutes and move to within one set of a second straight Grand Slam title.
To his credit, Del Potro rallied again to recover a break in the third set, but Djokovic was simply too good and sealed the match with a smash before collapsing in delight.
Thankfully, Del Potro's injury woes look to be behind him.
The Serb appeared to be on course for an easy victory when he went up a break in the second set to go up 6-3, 3-1.
The eighth game was an epic, lasting over 20 minutes and featuring eight deuces before Djokovic withstood the pressure to hold.
Djokovic has 13 Grand Slam titles, while Del Potro has just one, a U.S. Open championship he wrested from then-defending champion Roger Federer back in 2009.
The tension and fireworks of the Osaka-Williams clash were left behind during a relatively calm and composed baseline battle between two friends and familiar foes who had played each other 18 times, with Djokovic holding a commanding 14-4 edge.