Novak Djokovic still has a lot left in tank as as more majors beckon
Roger Federer is outplayed in US Open final thanks to Serbian’s versatility and defence
Novak Djokovic wins his tenth major by beating Roger Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the US Open. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
After stopping Federer’s momentum in four sets in this year’s Wimbledon final, Djokovic did the same on Sunday at Flushing Meadows, prevailing against an inspired opponent and a hostile crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reinforce his status as the world’s number one player.
Djokovic’s 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory gave him a second US Open singles title and a 10th Grand Slam singles title, moving him into a tie with Bill Tilden for seventh place on the career list.
Federer remains on top of that pecking order with 17, but Djokovic has prevented him from adding to his record total.
Federer is playing remarkable tennis at age 34, but Djokovic, at 28, is in his prime and remains one of the great tennis conundrums for any opponent with his tactical versatility and peerless defensive skills.
Federer has fared much better against Djokovic than most, and their rivalry is the best the men’s game has to offer at the moment, with Rafael Nadal in a slump that could turn out to be a decline.
Federer and Djokovic have played 42 times, and Djokovic’s victory on Sunday tied the series, 21-21.
It remains a contrast in styles, even more so now that Federer has recommitted to the attack under his co-coach Stefan Edberg, the former Wimbledon and US Open champion who was a net-rushing marvel at his peak. But Federer has yet to win a major title with Edberg in his camp and is now 6-8 against Djokovic in Grand Slam matches.
“Also, to play aggressively against him for a longer period of time is even more complicated. That was not really the case today. I had the keys in my hand and did some good things, but I just didn’t win the important points to turn the match or get ahead. He was always in front, more or less, and at one moment or another, that pays off. He’s more relaxed than when playing from behind.”
Djokovic is hardly just a defender. He takes plenty of risks of his own and is particularly adept at transforming seeming vulnerability into attack when extended into the corners of the court.
The level of risk required to break him down is enormous, and he is also a moving target. The tactic that works in the first set may not work in the fourth.
“He’s like a shark,” Goran Ivanisevic, the former Wimbledon champion now coaching Marin Cilic, told BBC Radio here. “If he smells blood, he attacks.”
He had lost four of the five in which he had played until Sunday. And he literally stumbled in the first set of this final when he lost his balance while changing direction in the fourth game and fell hard to the blue court, scraping his right forearm and looking a bit dazed for the next few points as Federer, who had been broken in the third game, succeeded in breaking back.
“There was still a little bit of moisture on the court, I think, from the rain and a bit of humidity and so forth,” Djokovic said. “I needed two, three games, really, to kind of regroup.”
This much-anticipated final between the world’s No 1 and No 2 players was delayed more than three hours by rain. When it finally did begin, it quickly became apparent (and audible) that Djokovic would be playing on the road, with the sellout crowd at Ashe Stadium giving Federer nothing but positive reinforcement and greeting Djokovic’s winners with polite applause at best and frequently cheering for his unforced errors and missed first serves.
Eva Asderaki-Moore, the first female chair umpire to work a US Open men’s singles final, did her best to manage the partisan vibe. Her plea of “Please” became something approximating a mantra; she also had a remarkable night reading the flow of play, making correct overrules and keeping a firm hold on a match that could easily have escaped control.
Djokovic was diplomatic enough to avoid any triumphant notes in his remarks during the awards ceremonies. If he is weary of playing against the Federer bandwagon, he did not mention it.
“I can’t sit here and criticise the crowd – on the contrary, I think it’s logical to expect that a great player and a champion like Roger has the majority of the support anywhere I play him,” Djokovic said.
“When I looked at him, I said, ‘This is Sparta’,” Djokovic said. “It felt great.”
Djokovic has become as tough to break down mentally as he is tough to break down in a baseline rally. And with Federer’s first serve stuck below 50 per cent, Djokovic won the opening set.
Federer found his form in the second, but as at Wimbledon, he was unable to sustain that drive, even with the crowd fully behind him, cheering for Djokovic’s missed first serves and other errors.
But Djokovic saved them all and was soon celebrating in the players’ box with his friends, family and team, which includes Edberg’s long-time rival Boris Becker, now Djokovic’s head coach. Their cheers had been drowned out for most of the night, but they ended up cheering the loudest as Federer, who converted just 4 of 23 break points in the match, sat glumly in his chair.
At least the Swiss knows his efforts are appreciated.
“It’s a great consolation for me to receive this kind of support in a country that is a long way from Switzerland and is one of the countries that is the most powerful in sports in general,” Federer said of Sunday’s crowd. “They love winners here.”
Djokovic might disagree. – (New York Times service)