Tennis Channel Live on Djokovic's 14th Grand Slam title:
NEW YORK—I had seen this before. Juan Martin del Potro was down a set and struggling to inspire confidence in the second when, without warning, the sleeping giant awoke. His measured forehands become meteoric blasts. His movement went from glacial to purposeful. His crowd support—always there in certain parts of Arthur Ashe Stadium—filled the gigantic arena from the pricey courtside seats to those within a service toss of the closed roof. And his opponent, seemingly coasting to yet another major title, was forced to answer questions he’d hoped were never uttered.
Nine years ago, that opponent, Roger Federer, was unable to return del Potro into a sense of slumber, and he lost the US Open final in five sets.
Today, under the same circumstances, Novak Djokovic played the role of Mariano Rivera, the famed New York Yankees closer who would enter a baseball game to the pulsating notes of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” (Yes, the US Open is in Queens, but the Mets are appalling this year.)
For the 14th time in a Grand Slam final, for the third time in a US Open final and for the first time against del Potro with a major title on the line, Djokovic closed out a victory. He silenced a partisan crowd and the threat of his accomplished Argentine adversary with a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 win that gives him two consecutive Grand Slam triumphs. The last time he did that, he won two more.
So I suppose you could say that I had that before as well.
After a straightforward, one-break first set, the tone of this match changed after Djokovic consolidated a break for a 3-1 lead in the second. Del Potro proceeded to play his cleanest and most forceful service game of the match to stem the Djokovic tide. At the same time, it emboldened del Potro, who then broke serve to the explosive delight of the sold-out stadium. He would go on to consolidate the break for a 4-3 lead. Pressure, Djokovic.
But if del Potro awoke with his service hold for 3-2, Djokovic reminded the worldwide audience that this wasn’t the fragile player of late 2016, all of 2017 and for parts of 2018. The man who had seemingly lost his way in a chase for tennis history—and, just a few months ago, lost to Marco Cecchinato in the quarterfinals of the French Open—held strong to hold serve for 4-4 in an eight-deuce, marathon game that featured three break points and some of the Djokovic’s finest, most steely tennis.
“Game over,” said a member of the Spanish media in press row. “Finished.”
That’s how it would turn out, after three hours and 16 minutes of largely entertaining tennis, but with an ending that seemed destined after the lengthy hold and subsequent tiebreaker victory.
While Djokovic would lose a game point at 3-1 in the third set, and then was broken to 3-3, the superb Serb was always able to rely on his unparalleled defense, instinctual offense and proven strategies—del Potro’s backhand, as solid it is was, was always going to be a liability in this match-up—to regain the upper hand.
Targeting del Potro’s weaker wing at 4-3, he regained the lead. And when he closed out the match with a hold, he regained the US Open title. The No. 1 ranking can’t be far behind.