New York City, USA : Novak Djokovic today defeated Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to win his 3rd title in Flushing Meadows. He now ties Pete Sampras for third place all-time on the Grand Slam singles titles list with 14.
Three times, del Potro was a point from breaking and earning the right to serve to make it a set apiece. Three times, Djokovic steeled himself. Eventually, he seized that game — and del Potro’s best chance to make a match of it.
Djokovic was better than del Potro on their many lengthy exchanges, using his trademark body-twisting, limb-splaying court coverage to get to nearly every ball, sneakers squeaking around the blue court in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the roof was closed because of rain.
“I was playing almost at the limit, all the time, looking for winners with my forehands, backhands, and I couldn’t make it,” del Potro said, “because Novak (was) there every time.”
Never was that more apparent than the game that stood out on this evening, with Djokovic serving while down 4-3 in the second set. They went back and forth, through eight deuces and all those break opportunities for del Potro, until he slapped one forehand into the net, and another sailed wide.
Those were high-risk shots, but, as del Potro put it: “It’s the only way to beat these kind of players.”
Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, called that moment the match’s “turning point, obviously.”
When it ended, with Djokovic holding to 4-all, spectators began leaving their seats, perhaps thinking it was time for a changeover, even though it wasn’t. That prompted to chair umpire Alison Hughes to chastise them.
It was a brief request, though, unlike her many other pleas for quiet, mainly as fans were shouting and chanting and clapping in support of del Potro. It all bothered Djokovic, who started yelling and gesturing toward the seats. At one moment, he pressed his right index finger to his lips, as if to say, “Shhhhhhh!” Later, after winning a point, Djokovic put that finger to his ear, as if to say, “Who are you cheering for now?!”
The tiebreaker was resolved thanks to more del Potro miscues on his forehand side, as he looked more and more fatigued. He made one last stand by breaking and holding for 3-all. But that was that.
When it ended, thanks to a three-game closing run by Djokovic, he flung his racket away and landed on his back, arms and legs spread wide.
He had hit his peak, Vajda said, at “just at the right time.”
Djokovic had never gone through an extended absence until 2017, when he sat out the second half of the season because of elbow pain that had plagued him for more than a year. He tried to return at the start of this season, but couldn’t, and opted for surgery.
A year after missing the U.S. Open because of an injured right elbow that would require surgery, Djokovic showed that he is unquestionably back at his best and back at the top of tennis. His returns and defense-to-offense skills as impeccable as ever, Djokovic collected his 14th Grand Slam title and second in a row by getting through every crucial moment for a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over 2009 champion del Potro at Flushing Meadows.
“There was always part of me that imagined and believed and hoped that I can get back (to) the desired level of tennis very soon,” said Djokovic, whose operation was in February. “But at the same time, life showed me that it takes time for good things, it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can center yourself, balance yourself and thrive. The last two months have been terrific.”
This was Djokovic’s third championship in New York, along with those in 2011 and 2015. Add in the trophies he has earned at six Australian Opens, one French Open and four Wimbledons, most recently in July, and the 31-year-old Serb pulled even with Pete Sampras for the third-most majors among men, trailing only Roger Federer’s 20 and Rafael Nadal’s 17.
““He’s my idol. Pete, I love you,” Djokovic said.
Federer lost in the fourth round in New York, while Nadal retired from his semifinal against del Potro because of a bad right knee. That put the 29-year-old Argentine back in a Grand Slam final for the first time since his breakthrough nine years ago, a comeback for a guy who had four wrist operations in the interim.
“I believe he’ll be here again with the champion’s trophy. I really do,” said Djokovic, who gave his pal a hug at the net, and then went over to console del Potro as he wiped away tears at his sideline seat.
Djokovic is, without a doubt, back to his best – the sort of form that propelled him to 12 Grand Slam titles before his elbow injury that sidelined him during last year’s US Open. He has spent a total of 223 weeks at the ATP’s No. 1 spot, including a 122-week run from July 2014 through November 2016, and will edge closer to reclaiming that top spot by improving to No. 3 in Monday’s rankings.
After losing to Stan Wawinka in the 2016 final, Djokovic did not get beyond the quarterfinal stage in any of the five majors he played – a barren run by his lofty standards. In comparison, he reached the semifinals in 23 of 24 majors from Wimbledon in 2010 to the French Open in 2016.
Now a back-to-back Grand Slam winner for the first time since he held all four titles after winning the 2016 French Open, Djokovic has moved level with Pete Samapras in the all-time Grand Slam men’s singles trophy count. While equaling one legend in Sampras, he overtakes another, Roger Federer, as the ATP’s all-time prize money leader ($119 million), thanks to his $3.8 million winner’s check.
The Serb was dominant throughout his championship run, dropping just one set (the third in his opening-round match against Tennys Sandgren) in seven matches. He ended the tournament winning 16 consecutive sets. In the 18 sets he won in his US Open title run, Djokovic dropped more than four games just once – in Sunday’s tiebreak second set against del Potro.
For del Potro, he was nine years and 22 majors removed from his previous appearance in a major final. A win on Sunday would have set a record for most Slam events played between a first and second title.
Image : Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses his trophy during the awarding ceremony for the men’s singles at the 2018 US Open tennis championships in New York, the United States, Sept. 9, 2018. Djokovic claimed the title by defeating Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina with 3-0 in the final.