Djokovic wins 14th major
NEW YORK — The U.S. Open final suddenly appeared to be slipping away from Novak Djokovic. He dropped three consecutive games. He was angered by a crowd roaring for his popular opponent, Juan Martin del Potro. He was, in short, out of sorts.
And then came Sunday’s pivotal game, a 20-minute, 22-point epic. 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.
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.
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.
“I was hoping he was going to be here, but he’s not,” Djokovic said about Sampras. “He’s my idol. Pete, I love you.”
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’d just like to congratulate Juan Martin … for still having faith, for still having belief in himself,” 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. “I believe he’ll be here again with the champion’s trophy. I really do.”
Del Potro spoke this week about the low point, in 2015, when he considered quitting the sport. But supported by a dozen or so friends from back home, whose “Ole!” choruses rang around the arena, he climbed up the rankings to a career-high No. 3 by thundering his 100 mph (160 kph) forehands and 135 mph (215 kph) serves.
Those produce free points against so many foes. Not against Djokovic, who always seemed to have all the answers.
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.