Sports

Third U.S. Open title elevates Djokovic into select company

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 defence-to-offence 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.”

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.

“Of course I’m sad I (lost),” del Potro said. “But I’m happy
for Novak and his team. They deserve to win.”

For Djokovic, he’s clearly back in form as shown at the U.S.
Open, the fourth time in his career he won multiple majors in a
season.

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