NEW YORK—After winning a point in the U.S. Open final, and bent on proving a point, Novak Djokovic leaped and roared and threw an uppercut, then glared at some of the thousands of spectators pulling for Roger Federer.
Following another point in that game, Djokovic nodded as he smiled toward the stands.
And moments later, Djokovic shook his right arm, bloodied by an early fall, and screamed, “Yes! Yes!” to celebrate a missed forehand by Federer.
Djokovic appeared to be all alone out there in Arthur Ashe Stadium—trying to solve Federer while also dealing with a crowd loudly supporting the 17-time major champion proclaimed “arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport” during pre-match introductions.
In the end, Djokovic handled everything in a thrill-a-minute final on a frenetic night.
Thwarting Federer with his relentless defence and unparalleled returning, Djokovic took control late and held on for a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory yesterday to earn his second U.S. Open title, third major championship of the year, and 10th Grand Slam trophy in all.
“We pushed each other to the limit, as we always do,” said the No. 1-ranked Djokovic.
Djokovic, who is 63-5 in 2015, including 27-1 at majors, said he understood why the crowd backed Federer but hopes to someday get that sort of support.
“You do let sometimes certain things to distract you,” Djokovic said about interacting with the fans.
“But it’s important to get back on the course and go back to basics, and why you are there and what you need to do.”
Certainly was able to do that.
Contorting his body this way and that, sneakers squeaking loudly as he changed directions or scraping like sandpaper as he slid to reach unreachable shots, Djokovic forced the 34-year-old Federer to put the ball into the tiniest of spaces.
Federer wound up with 54 unforced errors, 17 more than Djokovic.
Another key statistic: Djokovic won 10 of the first 12 points that lasted at least 10 strokes.
But perhaps the most pivotal of all, Djokovic saved 19 of the 23 break points he faced while winning six of Federer’s service games.
“Some of them, I could have done better, should have done better,” the second-ranked Federer said.
From late in the third set to 5-2 in the fourth, Djokovic took control against a wilting Federer by claiming eight of 10 games.
Federer made one last stand—breaking to get within 5-3 and holding for 5-4. But a forehand return that flew long left Djokovic as the champion, pointing to his heart.
After all the attention paid to Serena Williams’ bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam, which ended with a semi-final loss at the U.S. Open, it’s Djokovic who reached all four finals.
He beat Andy Murray at the Australian Open in January, lost to Stan Wawrinka at the French Open in June, then beat Federer at Wimbledon in July.
The 28-year-old from Serbia also won a trio of majors in 2011, including his only other title in New York in five previous finals.
And his career total ranks tied for seventh-most in history behind Federer.
Djokovic evened his head-to-head record with Federer at 21-all. They have met in three of the last six Grand Slam finals, with Djokovic being 3-0 in those.
It is as spectacular a rivalry as there is in tennis right now, with contrasting styles of play.
“Being back in a final is where you want to be,” said Federer, who owns five U.S. Open titles but last played for the championship in 2009.
“Playing a great champion like Novak is a massive challenge.”
His coach, Stefan Edberg, figures an 18th major title still is not out of reach—even though no one Federer’s age has won the U.S. Open since 1970.
“You still cannot count him out,” Edberg stressed.
“If he keeps playing at this level, he’ll get another shot.”
Djokovic sounded as if he agreed, saying about Federer: “He’s just not going away.”