The longstanding friendship of Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro took on another dimension when they shared the experience of suffering injuries that forced them to push themselves back to the top of the tennis rankings. They’ve finally returned to peak form, happily for Djokovic, who missed the last six months of 2017 because of an elbow injury, and for del Potro, who had four wrist surgeries from 2010 through 2015.
A precise Djokovic on Sunday won his 14th Grand Slam singles title, fighting off a spirited but visibly tiring del Potro to earn a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory under the roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the U.S. Open men’s final. Djokovic, who also won the Wimbledon title this year, was too quick for del Potro and his endurance stood him in good stead as he won his third title here in eight appearances in the final. He previously won in 2011 and 2015. Del Potro was the champion here in 2009, before he began experiencing wrist pain and all those surgical procedures.
The turning point on Sunday came in the eighth game of the second set. Del Potro had three chances to break Djokovic’s serve but couldn’t break through; holding his serve in the 20-minute, 32-second game allowed Djokovic to pull even at 4-4. Each held serve, which sent the set to a tiebreaker, which Djokovic won when del Potro sent a forehand into the net. Del Potro committed 47 unforced errors in the match.
Djokovic won 16 straight sets here and 21 of 23. Del Potro, as always, had an army of loud, chanting supporters from his hometown of Tandil, Argentina, but their energy wasn’t enough to get him through the match.
Del Potro, in an on-court interview, said he found it difficult to speak but praised Djokovic. Del Potro also expressed his joy at returning to the final here, which didn’t seem likely during the worst of his injury woes. “I got it after nine years which is amazing to me because the U.S. Open is my favorite tournament,” he said.
At the end of a tournament marred by sweltering heat and strength-sapping humidity — and the controversial code violation calls made against Serena Williams as she lost the women’s final to Naomi Osaka — Djokovic dropped to the court on his back, his arms outstretched as he caught his breath. The 31-year-old Serbian then climbed up to embrace his family, friends and entourage in the stands.
Djokovic won $3.8 million. Del Potro got a check for $1.85 million.
During the trophy presentation Djokovic said he gained empathy for del Potro during his own injury-induced absence. “I would like to congratulate Juan Martin for what he has done in the last four, five years. I really wish him all the best and I know he is going to be here again with the champion’s trophy.”