September 14, 2015
You have to hand it to Novak Djokovic, the best player in the world, who claimed his third and toughest Grand Slam of the year by simply refusing to submit to what the world wanted and a wild Flushing Meadows crowd almost demanded.
Because he has once again destroyed Roger Federer’s dream of another Grand Slam, we forget the astonishing level Djokovic has reached, an excellence that leaves others, even Federer, searching for fresh answers.
Novak hinted at this when he said: ‘First I’d like to show my admiration for Roger, who is still improving, and it was a wonderful match. I have a tremendous respect to Roger for what he’s given us, he is probably the best player in the history of the game. I knew he was going to be very aggressive and it brings the best out of you.
‘It’s been an incredible season and I’ve been enjoying this year more than any other because I’m a husband and a father. I tried to stay mentally tough. I was lucky to come up with some big serves when it mattered and this is a huge relief. I’m going to enjoy this victory as much as I can. But I don’t think my stomach could take much wine or beer.’
The scoreline sounds relatively comfortable under these very tricky psychological circumstances: 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. But this match was anything but an easy ride for the steely winner who might not have won at all.
Ultimately, the incredible mental strength of Djokovic conquered not only Federer, but the collective will of 23,000 screaming Americans, who wanted nothing more than to see him fail.
It wasn’t that they disliked Djokovic, simply that they wanted to see the much-loved Federer take one last Slam. And make no mistake, there was a time when the dream was on, the upset looking increasingly likely.
The noise of the crowd was deafening, at a volume no one had heard before, the magnificence of Federer’s second-set comeback simply mind-blowing. His SABR charges (Sneak Attack By Roger) sometimes seemed to make a mockery of Novak’s second serves. The popular number two had all the momentum and he wouldn’t be denied that set, even after he squandered chances to take it 6-4.
The strength, technique and tactical brilliance he found to level the match was extraordinary. You almost felt victory was within his grasp, with all those fanatical fans on his side.
Was it possible that a man who already had seventeen Grand Slam’s wanted an eighteenth just that little bit too much? Roger tried to hide his disappointment afterwards. But he knew he could have won.
Federer said: ‘I’ve had a wonderful last two weeks and playing against a great champion like Novak is a massive challenge – congratulations to him. We walk away from the final knowing more about the game and more about ourselves. I’m pleased with where my game’s at. I’ve got a lot of passion and I’ll see you guys next year.’
Roger knew the third set should have been his as well as the second. Federer had been two points from going 2-0 up at the start of that crucial third, but soon he had needed to break back just to stay alive. He did so, regaining the momentum to unimaginable noise. He also had break points to go 5-3 ahead, but couldn’t convert. Djokovic not only held, he broke in the very next game as Federer showed first signs of fatigue.
Even then, the Swiss had two break points to draw level once more. But Novak’s superhuman defences kept him in the crucial service game, he simply wouldn’t be beaten and stayed in points he had no right to contest. His reward was to take the set almost against the odds.
Federer’s backhand began to crumble temporarily, a sure sign that he was feeling drained. Sure enough, he was broken in the very first game of the fourth, and the writing was on the wall. Back he came again to reach break point, with the opportunity to go 3-3. Yet again, Djokovic dug deep and found what it took to stay on course for glory.
Federer had shown such hunger, such desire for another Grand Slam at the age of 34. Maybe that ambition meant there were times he had to beat himself as well as his opponent, to control his own nerves before he could attempt to play on Novak’s.
Only Stan Wawrinka’s all-out attack at Roland Garros has denied Djokovic a Calendar Slam. Novak has been superb all year and he deserves to go down as one of the best in history.
The stronger man won in New York in the end. Djokovic notched two breaks in the final set, so that even when he too was broken, while serving for the match, he had just enough of a safety net. Federer summoned all the resources he had left in an effort to pull off the impossible. Not even he could work the miracle, despite three more break points for an unlikely 5-5. Djokovic stayed cool under pressure, and finally closed out when many a man would have succumbed.
What an occasion, what an atmosphere, what drama. Sometimes you just wonder how on earth the beautiful sport of tennis can keep producing this kind of delicious quality.
You wonder whether we will ever see an era quite like this again. And all we can do is to enjoy it while it lasts and marvel at what we are witnessing.