On Sunday night, an exciting US Open men’s final took place between the world’s best and the world’s greatest player. Once again, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were on center stage. For a second consecutive slam, the world number one Djokovic prevailed over the number two ranked Federer in four entertaining sets 6-4, 5-7. 6-4, 6-4. It was the 28-year old Serbian’s second US Open championship and third major of a fantastic season. He actually came closer than Serena Williams to winning a grand slam barely missing out in Roland Garros by losing to French Open winner Stan Wawrinka.
The championship match at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing was delayed over three hours due to rain. However, they were still able to play with the first ball struck at 7:18 in the evening on a classic autumn night in New York City. Under cooler and breezy conditions, Djokovic and Federer went toe to toe like two prize fighters. Unlike the end of Floyd Mayweather’s career a night before that ripped off paying customers, this was worth the wait. While it wasn’t a classic match due to each player feeling the pressure, they still battled for four intense sets over three hours in front of a wild atmosphere.
It was a rematch of Wimbledon where Djokovic also triumphed in four sets. This one had great theatre. Federer again aiming for a record 18th slam while Djokovic was seeking number 10. Clearly, each were unnerved in a oddly played first set. After Djokovic broke Federer for 2-1, he fell on a point in the next game and quickly was broken back at love to the delight of a pro-Federer crowd who wanted to see history. But even after Djoker fell and scraped his elbow, he bounced back by winning four of the final five games to claim the opening set. His strong return of serve and ridiculous ground strokes on the run giving a listless Federer fits. Feds made 14 errors and didn’t serve well.
The second set was a different story. Even after Djokovic got out of an early service game by fighting off multiple break points, Federer rose to the occasion by serving better and getting into Nole’s games. Unlike previous matches, it was the elder 34-year old Swiss Maestro who mixed up his strategy with sneak attacks on second serves while finishing points at the net and using a strong one-handed backhand up for key winners. Eventually, the strategy paid dividends allowing him to break Djokovic in the 12th game to level the match to a thunderous ovation. If we didn’t know any better, Federer may as well have been American. An adopted New Yorker loved and revered similarly to one of the city’s own star athletes in Swedish Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
But what makes Djokovic so admirable is his strong will. Despite not having many staunch supporters even though he’s accomplished plenty, the fiery world number one showed the resilience of Rocky by winning over fans with his remarkable play from behind the baseline. The amazing aspect is he can be a few feet behind on the full run and come up with great shots that psyche out opponents. Something he’s consistently done to Federer, who didn’t have enough mental fortitude to take more chances when it was necessary. In a match where Djokovic wasn’t his sharpest committing two more errors (37) than winners (35), he saved 19 of 23 break points. Despite only hitting three aces, Novak came up with the big serves when he needed it going to Federer’s body to offset his more aggressive strategy. Even when he converted a break chance and went up a set and pumped his fist, it wasn’t done with the usual confidence. The body language told a different story.
It was still there for Federer. But when he failed to convert on five early chances in the fourth set, doubt finally crept in. The steadier player from the baseline won the longer rallies. Djokovic had the mental edge breaking Federer two consecutive times to lead comfortably 5-2. A game away from putting it away, it felt over. But on a night where he got tremendous support, Federer didn’t give in. He delivered a couple of his trademark winners and broke Djokovic for 3-5 to loud cheers. After holding for 4-5, the 17-time slam record holder upped the ante by winning three of the first four points in the 10th game to get to double break point. But when push came to shove, Djokovic did what he always does delivering the goods to get back to Deuce. With Federer threatening to break again, he saved one more. Then won the next two points with a long Federer forehand clinching an emotional win.
A relieved Djokovic didn’t do his usual celebration instead pointing to his chest as if to ask his box which included coach Boris Becker and beautiful wife Jelena Ristic, ‘Am I still the best?’ Indeed, he was. After meeting Federer at the net for congrats, he then ran up to his box and celebrated by hugging his wife. It was a great scene.
On the other end was a stoic Federer still at his chair thinking about all the missed chances. He knew he’d let this one slip away. How many more chances will he get? He’s still right there as the clear cut number two after destroying countryman Wawrinka in the semis. The desire is still there with him talking about how these moments with the crowd give him so much motivation to continue. He’ll be back next year.
For Djokovic, he was so close to a single calendar grand slam. A feat Rod Laver twice pulled off including once in the Open Era. The Australian legend remains the only male player to win all four majors in a single season accomplishing it in 1969. Laver won 11 slams and is still considered by many as the best of all-time. Though Federer has laid claim with a record 17. Pete Sampras and Rafael Nadal each have 14 followed by Roy Emerson (12) and Bjorn Borg (11), who’s tied with Laver.
With more prime years left, the Djoker could be on his way to second. With Nadal declining and Federer having not won a slam since 2012 Wimbledon, the world number one is at the top. He’ll also get competition from Andy Murray and Wawrinka. The question is who else can challenge. At the moment, Djokovic has already clinched the number one ranking easily outdistancing Federer. He’s in a class by himself.