Novak Djokovic’s comeback from the elbow problems that cut his season short last year appeared on Friday to be just about complete after he continued his solid play and earned a chance to win a second Grand Slam title this season.
Djokovic advanced to Sunday’s U.S. Open final with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori of Japan at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic, who won the Wimbledon title in July, will face Juan Martin del Potro in Sunday’s final. Del Potro advanced when Rafael Nadal withdrew from the first semifinal because of knee pain. Del Potro had won the first two sets, 7-6 (3), 6-2.
Djokovic, seeded sixth here, owns two U.S. Open titles among his 13 Grand Slam singles championships. He won here in 2011 and 2015. Djokovic has a career 14-4 head-to-head edge over Del Potro, including prevailing in their last three matches in a row.
“I felt great. I don’t know how it looked,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I thought I came in right out of the blocks with great intensity and great focus…. I thought I played really, really well.”
Nishikori appeared to stumble and hurt his knee or ankle in the early going but recovered to break Djokovic’s serve for 1-1 in the second set and moved very well after shaking off his initial discomfort. However, Djokovic was the stronger and more complete player and better server and benefitted from Nishikori’s 51 unforced errors.
Djokovic missed about six months’ action last season because of his elbow, which eventually required surgery. His return to competition was rocky, and the former world No. 1 lost his first match at Indian Wells in March to No. 109-ranked Taro Daniel. Djokovic also lost his first match at Miami and, in April, lost in the first round at Barcelona, Spain, to 140th ranked Martin Klizan. However, he reached the semifinals at Rome, the quarterfinals at the French Open and the finals of a tournament in London before his run at Wimbledon, where he defeated Kevin Anderson in straight sets in the final.
Because of the many upsets that scrambled his half of the draw the 31-year-old from Serbia faced only one seeded player before reaching the semifinals against No. 21 Nishikori. Djokovic defeated No. 26 Richard Gasquet of France in the third round.
Djokovic called Del Potro “a big-match player,” adding, “I have tremendous respect for him as a person and a player. He’s a great guy. He works hard … I’m sure it’s going to be a thrilling match.”