September 10, 2018
It was almost sadistic yet strangely beautiful, this masterful exposure of a great player’s weakness by Novak Djokovic.
“Djokernole” showed such confidence, such control, such resistance…and then he waited. He took his time, before exposing the imposing giant’s lack of mobility.
Make no mistake, Juan Martin del Potro is more mobile than almost any tall person on earth.
But we are talking top, top sport here, the most demanding sport on the planet if we take into account all the twists amd turns and endurance times.
It is cruel, it is seductive, it is magical. You just have to appreciate what Novak Djokovic does in order to be utterly entranced.
He doesn’t have the elegance of Federer or the brute force of Nadal. He simply has…everything. Truly. Everything you need to beat Federer, or Nadal, or anyone.
Where did he get this? Novak revealed how watching Wimbledon on TV as a kid inspired him to play tennis.
For the record, the Serb downed Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 to win the US Open and equal the great Pete Sampras on 14 Grand Slams.
He explained: ‘The first thing I ever saw related to tennis on TV was Pete winning either his first or second Wimbledon championships. That inspired me to play tennis.’
Now Djokovic is the most complete and the most technically accomplished player ever to have done so.
He is only three Slams behind Rafael Nadal and six behind Roger Federer. If he stays fit, he could conceivably catch both.
And don’t forget, he beats both all-time-greats more than they beat him. And he fears them less than they fear him.
Recovery from an elbow injury enabled Novak to come strong again. But above all he rediscovered his appetite for the game.
The defining moment? Climbing a mountain, appropriately called Sainte-Victoire, in the South of France with his wife Jelena earlier this year.
From there he won Wimbledon, Cincinnati (to complete his Masters Nine), and the US Open.
Novak explained: ‘It gave me a new breath for this sport. The rest is history.’
Hard as Del Potro tried to break down that unbelievable Djokovic defence, he couldn’t. Not for any significant length of time.
There were moments when it looked possible. Midway through the first and second sets, even early in the tie-break.
But Novak summoned all his new-found motivation and composure to prevail under a sustained bombardment from Delpo.
There was a moment in the third set when the much-loved giant from Argentina finally knew he was beaten.
He had struck what would have been a winner against any other man on the planet. Djokovic reached it and returned, performing the impossible.
Juan Martin unleashed another missile. Novak absorbed its energy and conjured a cross-court winner.
That left Delpo drained amd doubled up, eyes staring hopelessly at the ground, while Djokovic punched the New York night air and celebrated his own brilliance.
One man knew he wasn’t quite good enough. The other knew deep down he is the best around.
Remember, no one hits a ball harder than Delpo during a rally. Meryl Streep gasped, face framed by her own comforting hands, as she tried to make sense of that power.
The South American had hit one sizzling winner with such ferocity that it didn’t seem humanly possible.
Many of his shots were like that. And yet, incredibly, most were returned with interest.
Novak remained calm under this firepower and found answers, until Delpo simply ran out of questions and slipped meekly to inevitable defeat.
It was a wonderful final, this clinical hunting down of a big, proud beast, even if Delpo didn’t take a set.
It was also a merciful relief to be able to celebrate tennis once more instead of crazy humidity and misguided umpires.
Britain had something to celebrate too. Wheelchair superstar Alfie Hewett added the singles title to his doubles glory by beating top seed Shingo Kunieda 6-3, 7-5.
Almost no one was there to watch. Surely there must come a day when the wheelchair heroes get to perform as a warm-up at the very least to the able-bodied finalists?
That way thousands can appreciate their skill instead of hundreds or just scores of fans.
Britain has a tennis hero. So does Serbia.
Let’s salute them both.
By Mark Ryan