Monday, August 15, 2011

US Open 2011: Novak Djokovic

US Open 2011: Novak Djokovic

I believe we started calling Novak Djokovic’s year “unbelievable” in March, after he followed his Australian Open win with back-to-back titles at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. What do we call it now, with three more Masters trophies, Wimbledon, and more than double the amount of wins added to that early-season haul?

I would call it believable, because I watched the Serb, who has managed to outdo himself at almost every tournament this year, in person for the first time in 2011. To me, the word unbelievable implies that something isn’t possible—until you actually witness it. What I saw from Djokovic in Montreal were segments of the spectacular, 54-piece puzzle he’s built (with one piece missing; doesn’t that always happen?):

—His forehand, with near-flawless form, fitting since his season can be described in kind.

—His point-ending backhand, the Djoker’s trump card appearing at a—often pivotal—moment’s notice.

—His defense, stymieing countless potential winners and smoked serves.

—His new aura; it felt like the NHL's Canadiens were playing during his matches.

—Most impressive, his insatiable desire for more—more points, more wins, more titles.

He showed all of this, one more time, in the final, fending off hard-luck Mardy Fish, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

Fish appeared to be reprising his last meeting with Djokovic, a one-sided defeat in this year’s Miami semifinals. But down a set and 0-30 on his serve at 1-2, the American finally began to reap the benefits of his aggressive mentality. Using the all-court attack that got him this far, Fish avoided the fatal double-break deficit, turning around not just the game but the match. He earned his first break in the next game, started to hit with greater authority, and frustrated Djokovic, who gave away the set with a dreadful service game.

“There were frustrations,” Djokovic said afterward. “But, you know, I managed to hold my composure when I needed to. I think it was decisive.”

Resetting, Djokovic made Fish labor for an opening hold and would consistently apply pressure in the third set. It brought out some of the best in Fish, who gave the top seed by far his most difficult challenge of the week. But at 2-all, Djokovic would earn triple break point—and break—and at 5-3 secured triple championship point on serve. Fish stopped Djokovic from running away with the title earlier, and did so again here, wiping away all three opportunities. Clearly feeling the pressure, Djokovic was elated after a Fish forehand sailed long, setting up a fourth title chance, which he converted after another error.

“I did get tight in the end,” Djokovic said. “Up to the last moment, you didn’t really know who is going to win. But I believed I could do it.”

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