NEW YORK, September 10, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín del Potro – both former U.S. Open champions – displayed amazing levels of tennis that married power with grace during this year’s U.S. Open fortnight. On Sunday, the No. 6 seed Djokovic and No. 3 del Potro met in the championship of the 50th anniversary edition of the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of 2018. Each competitor was looking to recover their sense of self-belief following an odyssey of injuries (elbow for Djokovic, wrist for del Potro) that sidelined them for extended periods of time. Both players arrived at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium for the final vying for their third title of season – and for Djokovic, he was trying to win his second straight major following in the footsteps of his magical Wimbledon triumph in July.
While Djokovic was the rightful favorite as he chased after his third U.S. Open crown, it was del Potro who endeared himself to to the New York City crowd. He was back in the final for the first time in nine years. Shouts of “Ole Delpo!” could be heard throughout Ashe from the legion of del Potro fans in attendance, which included the “Tandil 12,” a close-knit group of del Potro’s friends since childhood who attended all of his matches – and with the roof closed because of rain, they rang loud and clear.
Ten years after he won his first Grand Slam title, Djokovic won his 14th, which tied him with Pete Sampras for third place all-time behind Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (17). The Serbian from Belgrade bested del Potro, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3, over the course of three hours and 15 minutes by relying on a relenting attack of blistering forehands mixed with a consistency in his serving and receiving. Although Djokovic kept del Potro off balance throughout much the match by turning defensive saves into attacking rallies, the gentle giant from Tandil, Argentina, leveled both the second and third sets to overcome a pair of early service breaks. He was never quite out of it until he was out of it – and that wasn’t until the last point of the match was finished.
During the trophy presentation, del Potro, who beat Federer to win the 2009 U.S. Open, addressed the crowd by saying, “I love you guys. I’m so happy to be back in the final against this magnificent idol and friend. … The outpouring of love this evening has been unbeatable.”
If there was a turning point in the match, it came during the eighth game of the second set. With del Potro ahead 4-3, he and Djokovic battled through 22 points that took 20 minutes to complete. Djokovic prevailed after he saved three break points. The second set, which was decided by a tie-break, alone, took one hour and 35 minutes to play out.
Djokovic won 68 percent (50 of 74) of his first-serve points and dominated play at the net with a 76 percent efficiency rate. He hit 32 winners and committed 38 unforced errors, but he offset any deficiencies while returning serve by breaking del Potro four times in seven opportunities. Meanwhile, del Potro hit just six aces, but won 67 percent (38 of 57) of his first-serve points and broke Djokovic twice in six tries. He pounded 31 winners but also hit 47 unforced errors. Djokovic outpointed del Potro 111-96. At the end of the match, the two shared a very extended, friendly and warm embrace at the net.
With Djokovic’s latest victory, which was the 40th win of the year, he has strung together an incredible 22-1 win-loss record this summer – including 13 consecutive wins. His last defeat came against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto last month. He’s won titles at Wimbledon and Cincinnati to go along with the U.S. Open in the borough of Queens.
“If you told me in February that I would win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and Cincinnati, I wouldn’t believe you,” said Djokovic during his post-match press conference. “I expected after surgery I would be back on a high level, but it took me time. I learned a lot about myself and to be patient. For good things, it takes time. The last two months have been terrific. … I’m on a whole new level.”
In his press conference, del Potro, whose eyes became red from crying, said: “Novak deserved to take the trophy. He played a great match, very smart game. I had my opportunities during the second and third sets, but I was playing almost at the limit all the time, looking for winners with my forehands, backhands, and I couldn’t make it because Novak was there every time. He’s a great champion so I am glad for him.
“You can lose or win a trophy, but the love from the crowd, it could be even bigger than the tournament. That’s what I got from them. It will be in the heart for the rest of my life.”
Djokovic was asked to reflect upon what winning another Grand Slam – and being tied with Sampras – meant to him. He said, “I’m a student of the sport and I respect its history. I’m grateful for those who have paved the way for us. Pete Sampras is one of the biggest legends ever to play the game. He was my childhood idol. He was someone I was looking up to. The first actual thing I saw related to tennis on TV was his first or second Wimbledon championship. That inspired me to start playing tennis.
“There is a lot of significance of me being now shoulder to shoulder in terms of Grand Slam wins with him. It’s truly incredible when you think about it. I watched him win one of his first Wimbledon championships, and I grew up playing and thinking that one day I’ll be able to do what he does. To actually be here, it’s a dream come true.”
Barty and Vandeweghe celebrate first Slam
Ash Barty of Australia and CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States became first-time Grand Slam champions by winning the U.S. Open women’s doubles final over No. 2 seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (6) on Arthur Ashe Stadium with the roof closed. The two hour and 32 minute match ended on a double fault by Mladenovic.
The No. 13 seeds Barty and Vandeweghe struck 38 winners and saved three match points against the current WTA No. 1 doubles team and reigning Australian Open champions. They won on their third match point opportunity. It’s their first major title after a combined six runner-up finishes in women’s and mixed doubles.
“We’ve gone far in a lot of different events separately, but we’ve had good success this year together when we have played together,” said Vandeweghe as quoted by the WTA website. “I think it’s finally the first time we’ve played together at a Grand Slam. I was just dying for it. She was great to play with for two weeks. I had an amazing time out there with Ash.”
Barty added: “This last fortnight has been really fun on and off the court. We’ve been relaxed. We’re very hungry to go as deep as we could. It was really nice to be able to play a pretty clean tournament.”
Babos tried to look for positives in defeat. She said, “We had all the opportunities. We mustn’t lie about this. We were all over them and controlling the whole match. I think it just slipped out of our hands in the second set, and then after we were down big-time, and we were really fighting till the end, and this is why they are such a great team. I mean, for now, personally, me, I don’t have regrets. We gave everything we had. It was a great opportunity, but 100 percent sure that the way we play we will have a lot, lot, lot more.”
Junior winners from all over the world
• No. 6 seed T. Seyboth Wild of Brazil defeated Lorenzo Musetti of Italy, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 to win the Junior Boys’ singles title. Wild hit 24 winners and outpointed Musetti 73-55 during the 1 hour and 18 minute final.
• No. 3 seed Xiyu Wang of China won the Junior Girls’ singles title with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over No. 11 seed Clara Burke of France. Wang won the 1 hour and 25 minute match despite hitting more unforced errors (24) than winners (21). However, she broke Burel five times and outpointed her opponent 73-59. Wang, currently ranked No. 278, becomes the first player from mainland China to win a Grand Slam girls’ singles title.
• Adrian Andreev of Bulgaria and Anton Matusevich of Great Britain won the Junior Boys’ doubles title with a 6-4, 2-6 (10-8), win over Emilio Nava and Axel Nefve of the United States.
• In an all-United States final, No. 1 seeds Cori Gauff and Catherine McNally won the Junior Girls’ doubles title over Hailey Baptiste and Dalayna Hewitt, 6-3, 6-2.
Wheelchair winners crowned
• No. 2 seed Alvie Hewitt of Great Britain upset No. 1 seed Shinto Kundera of Japan, 6-3, 7-5, to win the wheelchair men’s singles final, which was played on Louis Armstrong Stadium with the roof closed. Hewitt hit 49 winners and broke Kundera seven times during the 1 hour and 55 minute match.
• No. 1 seed Diede De Groot of the Netherlands beat No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji of Japan, 6-2, 6-3, to win the wheelchair women’s singles final. De Groot won 40 of her 59 points off of Kamiji’s serve. She hit 30 winners and took advantage of nine service breaks against Kamiji during the 1 hour and 12 minute match on Louis Armstrong Stadium with the roof closed.
• The 2018 U.S. Open set an all-time attendance record, with more than 800,000 total fans attending both main-draw matches (732,663) and Fan Week (96,135). The 50th anniversary edition of the U.S. Open hosted a total of 828,798 spectators.
• Novak Djokovic appeared in an Open Era record-tying eighth U.S. Open final and 23rd overall Grand Slam title match on Sunday. It was his first Grand Slam final against del Potro. Throughout his run to the championship, Djokovic lost just one set (during his opening-round match against Tennys Sandgren) in seven matches. He ended the tournament by winning 16 consecutive sets.
• By becoming the 50th champion of the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic joined Roger Federer (5), Jimmy Connors (5), Pete Sampras (5), John McEnroe (4), Rafael Nadal (3) and Ivan Lendl (3) as players to win the Open three or more times.
• Novak Djokovic won $3,800,000 in prize money for winning the U.S. Open men’s championship plus 2,000 ATP rankings points, which will lift him into No. 3 when the ATP rankings are updated on Monday. Juan Martín del Potro earned a runner-up prize of $1,850,000 and 1,200 ATP rankings points.
• With Novak Djokovic’s latest Grand Slam victory, the U.S. Open has been won by a member of the Big Four in 12 of the last 15 years, with Roger Federer (5), Djokovic (3), Rafael Nadal (3) and Andy Murray (1) capturing titles. Since the 2005 French Open, the Big Four have won 50 of the past 55 Grand Slam titles.
What they’re saying
It’s been 24 hours since Naomi Osaka won her first Grand Slam title amid the controversy of Serena Williams’ on-court tirade directed toward chair umpire Carlos Ramos. There’s still plenty being said in hindsight. Here’s a sampling:
• At her post-match press conference Saturday night after losing the women’s singles final to Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams was asked by a reporter if there was anything she would have changed about the outcome. She said she would continue to fight for women’s equality and for those who want to express themselves. “They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”
• Former player Pam Shriver, who is now an ESPN analyst, in commenting about the controversy between Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos during Saturday’s women’s singles final, said in an interview with the New York Times: “Both made mistakes. Ramos helped derail a championship match by being rigid beyond normal protocol by not giving first a soft warning for coaching, not communicating effectively to defuse an emotional player and by not allowing a player to let off more steam before giving the third code violation that gave a game at a crucial time in a final. No four-letter words were used that I heard.”
• Naomi Osaka’s dream match-up came when she faced her idol Serena Williams on Saturday. She said during her post-match news conference that she focused on the match in order to concentrate of playing tennis. “I think I was able to do that because it was my first Grand Slam final. I felt like I shouldn’t let myself be overcome by nerves or anything, and I should just really focus on playing tennis because that’s what’s gotten me to this point.
“So, yeah, I just thought, like, no matter what happens outside of the court, for me, when I step on the court, it’s just about tennis.”
What they’re writing
• Columnist Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post in a commentary headlined “Sexist power play ruins powerful final” wrote: “Ramos took what began as a minor infraction and turned it into one of the nastiest and most emotional controversies in the history of tennis, all because he couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.”
• Among the many plaudits that U.S. Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka received Sunday came from some of her fellow professionals. Andy Murray of Great Britain wrote: “You were brilliant.” Marin Cilic of Croatia added: “Congratulations Naomi. Such an inspiration. Well done!” She also received a lengthy congratulations from ESPN television analyst Patrick McEnroe, who wrote on Twitter: “Huge HUGE congrats to @usopen champ @Naomi_Osaka_ Class. Courage. Character. Breath of fresh air. One heckuva tennis player.”
On Sunday, while enjoying a trophy tour of New York City, Naomi Osaka wrote a thank you note to her fans and followers on Twitter: “So there’s been a lot going on but I just want to say, I was grateful to have the opportunity to play on that stage yesterday. Thank you ❤️“