Champions have the rare talent of making their endeavours look easier than mere mortals can imagine but Novak Djokovic’s straight-sets win over Juan Martín del Potro in the US Open final on Sunday night was no straightforward celebration of the Serbian’s unique gifts. It took him three and a quarter hours to add a third title to the trophies he lifted here in 2011 and 2015, as well as a second major of the year to go with his return to championship form at Wimbledon, capped off with a rise to No 4 in the world.
Players trying to emulate their idols got off to an emotional start in the final weekend of the 50th edition of the closing 2018 major, so Djokovic matching the 14 major titles of Pete Sampras – always his favourite player – rounded out a baggage-free double easy to celebrate, after Naomi Osaka’s emphatic but turbulent win over Serena Williams 24 hours earlier.
However, he had to come through two stirring Del Potro fightbacks to win 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3, as the Argentinian emerged from his early torpor to stretch Djokovic’s talent and patience to the limit.
The second set, which could have gone either way, took 95 minutes, longer than any in the tournament, and featured a 20-minute street fight in the seventh game – about half the length of the first set. The third was no cakewalk either.
In the early exchanges they prodded at each other’s defences like a pair of cagey old pugilists, until Djokovic held to love in the pivotal seventh game. When he got to break point with a string of blistering, angled forehands that sapped the oxygen-greedy legs of his 6ft 6in opponent, he cashed in.
Del Potro had gone in with the humble mien of someone who takes nothing for granted but he needed to find his inner mongrel to keep the set alive, but dumped a backhand at the end of a long rally. He was having to fight harder than Djokovic, whose balance, poise and timing hit a high point towards the end of the first hour.
Del Potro responded by striking the equal fastest serve of the tournament – 143 miles an hour, alongside Milos Raonic – in the third game. But a framed forehand from behind the line handed Djokovic the break.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Kevin Mitchell