Novak Djokovic wins US Open for 14th major, tying ‘idol’ Pete Sampras

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Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory over Juan Martin del Potro which saw him take his Grand Slam tally to 14. (AFP)
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Novak Djokovic of Serbia (R) and Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina (L) pose with their trophies after their 2018 US Open men's singles final match on September 9, 2018 in New York. (AFP)
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Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates his victory over Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina during their 2018 US Open men's singles final match on September 9, 2018 in New York.(AFP / Kena Betancur)
Updated 10 September 2018
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Novak Djokovic wins US Open for 14th major, tying ‘idol’ Pete Sampras

  • A year after missing the US Open because of an injured right elbow, Djokovic showed that he is unquestionably back at the top of tennis
  • This was Djokovic’s third championship in New York, having won in 2011 and 2015

NEW YORK: The US Open final suddenly appeared to be slipping away from Novak Djokovic. He dropped three consecutive games. He was barking at himself, at his entourage, at a crowd vocally supporting his opponent, Juan Martin del Potro. He was, in short, out of sorts.
And then came Sunday’s pivotal game, a 20-minute, 22-point epic. Three times, del Potro was a point from breaking and earning the right to serve to make it a set apiece. Three times, Djokovic steeled himself. Eventually, he seized that game — and del Potro’s best chance to make a match of it.
A year after missing the US Open because of an injured right elbow that would require surgery, Djokovic showed that he is unquestionably back at his best and back at the top of tennis. His returns and defense-to-offense skills as impeccable as ever, Djokovic collected his 14th Grand Slam title and second in a row by getting through every crucial moment for a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over 2009 champion del Potro at Flushing Meadows.
“There was always part of me that imagined and believed and hoped that I can get back (to) the desired level of tennis very soon,” said Djokovic, whose operation was in February. “But at the same time, life showed me that it takes time for good things, it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can center yourself, balance yourself and thrive. The last two months have been terrific.”
This was Djokovic’s third championship in New York, along with those in 2011 and 2015. Add in the trophies he has earned at six Australian Opens, one French Open and four Wimbledons, most recently in July, and the 31-year-old Serb pulled even with Pete Sampras for the third-most majors among men, trailing only Roger Federer’s 20 and Rafael Nadal’s 17.
““He’s my idol. Pete, I love you,” Djokovic said.
Federer lost in the fourth round in New York, while Nadal retired from his semifinal against del Potro because of a bad right knee. That put the 29-year-old Argentine back in a Grand Slam final for the first time since his breakthrough nine years ago, a comeback for a guy who had four wrist operations in the interim.
“I believe he’ll be here again with the champion’s trophy. I really do,” said Djokovic, who gave his pal a hug at the net, and then went over to console del Potro as he wiped away tears at his sideline seat.
Del Potro spoke this week about the low point, in 2015, when he considered quitting the sport. But supported by a dozen or so friends from back home, whose “Ole!” choruses rang around the arena, he climbed up the rankings to a career-high No. 3 by thundering his 100 mph (160 kph) forehands and 135 mph (215 kph) serves.
Those produce free points against so many foes. Not against Djokovic, who always seemed to have all the answers — and who said he convinced himself that all of those “Oles” were actually people calling out his own nickname, “Nole.”
Djokovic was better than del Potro on their many lengthy exchanges, using his trademark body-twisting, limb-splaying court coverage to get to nearly every ball, sneakers squeaking around the blue court in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the roof was closed because of rain.
“I was playing almost at the limit, all the time, looking for winners with my forehands, backhands, and I couldn’t make it,” del Potro said, “because Novak (was) there every time.”
Never was that more apparent than the game that stood out on this evening, with Djokovic serving while down 4-3 in the second set. They went back and forth, through eight deuces and all those break opportunities for del Potro, until he slapped one forehand into the net, and another sailed wide.
Those were high-risk shots, but, as del Potro put it: “It’s the only way to beat these kind of players.”
Djokovic’s coach, Marian Vajda, called that moment the match’s “turning point, obviously.”
When it ended, with Djokovic holding to 4-all, spectators began leaving their seats, perhaps thinking it was time for a changeover, even though it wasn’t. That prompted to chair umpire Alison Hughes to chastise them.
It was a brief request, though, unlike her many other pleas for quiet, mainly as fans were shouting and chanting and clapping in support of del Potro. It all bothered Djokovic, who started yelling and gesturing toward the seats. At one moment, he pressed his right index finger to his lips, as if to say, “Shhhhhhh!” Later, after winning a point, Djokovic put that finger to his ear, as if to say, “Who are you cheering for now?!“
The tiebreaker was resolved thanks to more del Potro miscues on his forehand side, as he looked more and more fatigued. He made one last stand by breaking and holding for 3-all. But that was that.
When it ended, thanks to a three-game closing run by Djokovic, he flung his racket away and landed on his back, arms and legs spread wide.
He had hit his peak, Vajda said, at “just at the right time.”
Djokovic had never gone through an extended absence until 2017, when he sat out the second half of the season because of elbow pain that had plagued him for more than a year. He tried to return at the start of this season, but couldn’t, and opted for surgery.
It took him some time to find the right form, as evidenced by his quarterfinal loss at the French Open to a guy who was ranked 72nd and had never won a Grand Slam match until that tournament.
“I was very, very disappointed with my performance that day,” Djokovic recalled Sunday, explaining that he went hiking in the mountains in France to clear his head after that setback.
Djokovic then got right back to work, and announced that he was, once more, himself by winning Wimbledon.
Now he’s backed that up at the US Open, the fourth time in his career he won multiple majors in a season.
“Difficult times, but you learn through adversity,” Djokovic said. “I try to take the best out of myself in those moments.”


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 3 min 16 sec ago
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.