The image that abides from Sunday’s men’s final will be of Juan Martin del Potro, doubled over with his hands on his knees, after another punishing rally had slipped out of his grasp.
Del Potro brought all his renowned artillery to this showdown. But his best efforts simply bounced off Novak Djokovic’s defensive shield, as if del Potro were a barbarian casting spears at one of those Roman tortoise formations that conquered the ancient world.
Djokovic is the greatest defender this sport has ever seen – Blockovic, more like – and he was playing in conditions that might have been designed specifically for him.
The US Open’s organisers redesigned the courts this year, replacing the asphalt under the rubberised coating with a slower concrete surface, and adding extra sand to the blue paint on top. The result is to take a little extra zip off each shot – the same zip that might have given del Potro’s piledrivers a chance of bypassing the Djokovic defensive wall.
Despite these helpful tweaks – and the cool change that has finally driven the sweltering air from New York – Djokovic did not have things all his own way on Arthur Ashe Stadium yesterday. He, too, looked to be running low on fuel after an intense 20-minute service game in the middle of the second set.
At this stage, Djokovic’s equanimity was being rocked by the hugely partisan crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, which kept the upper bowl reverberating with chants of “Delllpo, Delllpo”. And a couple of his usually metronomic forehands skewed into the sidelines as Del Potro made a determined comeback from 1-3 down to level the set.
This was Del Potro’s best spell, as he slugged his gigantic forehand with the whirling arm of a heavy-metal guitarist, and even mixed in a few devastating backhand winners up the line. This was a shot we thought we would never see again when he reported to the surgeon’s table for four wrist operations, three of them on the left wrist that provides the spin on that double-fisted backhand.
As Djokovic scampered left and right, deep behind the baseline, his shoes squeaking louder than a hospital dinner trolley, it seemed that Del Potro had him on the ropes. There were three break points in that long game, and almost too many deuces to count. But the final punch simply refused to land. No-one ducks and dives better than Djokovic when the assault is coming. In the end, he squeaked home 7-4 in the tie-breaker of a set that lasted fully 95 minutes – longer than the controversial women’s final of Saturday night.
Progress was slow for Djokovic, who needed fully 3hr 15min to close out his 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 win, but it never seemed in real doubt. The margins here were small enough that hot temperatures, of the kind which predominated in the first ten days of the tournament, might have made a difference – at least to the number of sets. But you always felt that Djokovic had the answers. Even if he was less ambitious in his groundstrokes, he was more proactive in his court-positioning, coming in no fewer than 37 times to del Potro’s 17, and volleying with the lethal accuracy that he developed under Boris Becker’s guidance.
Image Source: Times of India