The rejuvenated Novak Djokovic produced a magnificent performance against Juan Martin del Potro to claim his third US Open title and equal Pete Sampras’ haul of 14 grand slams.
Injury troubles and personal problems contributed to Djokovic going more than two years without a slam following his 2016 French Open triumph, but he looked back to his brilliant best at Wimbledon in July and again proved the class of the field at Flushing Meadows as he secured a second successive major.
An eight-time finalist in New York who had only previously lifted the trophy in 2011 and 2015, the Serbian was made to work hard on Sunday as Del Potro came from a break down in the second and third sets.
Yet Djokovic was ultimately too strong, his ability to counter his opponent’s two biggest weapons — Del Potro’s serve and forehand — proving key as he triumphed 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 in three hours and 16 minutes.
Del Potro — the 2009 champion back for a second slam final after overcoming career-threatening wrist injuries — threw everything he had at his rival, but Djokovic absorbed the Argentinian’s power superbly, his returning of serve particularly outstanding.
He is now set to rise to third in the ATP rankings behind Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the only two men to have claimed more slam titles, but can justifiably claim to be the best player in the world at present.
14th Grand Slam title
Equals Pete Sampras #Wimbledon & New York double
Congratulations @DjokerNole ! pic.twitter.com/FMFvuDc2hW
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) September 9, 2018
An emotional Del Potro shed tears in his chair at the end of the contest, but the 29-year-old can be hugely proud of his efforts after a thrilling run in the Big Apple.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Serena Williams’ spectacular row with umpire Carlos Ramos — and the ensuing fallout as the American accused the official of sexism — had overshadowed Naomi Osaka’s victory in the women’s final.
Yet the atmosphere was more positive on Sunday as spectators enjoyed an absorbing contest — again played under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium due to rain — between two great friends.
Things looked ominous for Del Potro as Djokovic seized control early on, moving magnificently and constructing a number of superb points with precision striking.
Del Potro’s forehand is among the most intimidating weapons in the sport, but it misfired under relentless pressure towards the end of the first set, Djokovic breaking in the eighth game — at the end of a 22-shot rally — and taking the opener.
When another forehand error cost Del Potro his serve early in the second, all the momentum was with Djokovic.
However, the underdog dialled up his intensity to great effect — that massive forehand clicking into gear — and was aided by significant crowd support as he capitalized on a brief dip in Djokovic’s form to get back on level terms.
Amid increasing noise between points and serves, which prompted frequent interventions from chair umpire Alison Hughes, the previously assured Djokovic — who missed the tournament last year due to an elbow injury — appeared agitated.
He was also taking longer and longer to serve, but dug deep to hold for 4-4 in a hugely dramatic game lasting just over 20 minutes.
Meryl Streep is all of us watching this @usopen final #USOpen pic.twitter.com/FDSzCvGG5R
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) September 9, 2018
Having worked so hard to resist Del Potro’s charge, Djokovic saw his tenacity rewarded as Del Potro’s forehand again went missing at the worst moment, successive errors from 4-4 in a tie-break proving costly.
To his credit, Del Potro rallied again to recover a break in the third set, but Djokovic was simply too good and sealed the match with a smash before collapsing in delight.
Djokovic  bt Del Potro  6-3 7-6 [7-4] 6-3
Djokovic – 32/38
Del Potro – 31/47
Djokovic – 1/2
Del Potro – 6/1
BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 4/7
Del Potro – 2/6
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Djokovic – 63
Del Potro – 64
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Djokovic – 68/59
Del Potro – 67/50
Djokovic – 111
Del Potro – 96