September 13, 2015

Chasing History

With all eyes on the ladies at the U.S. Open this year, it's easy to forget that there was also plenty on the line for the two men contesting the other singles trophy in New York this fortnight. And while the men's draw certainly boasted its share of surprises and upsets too, ultimately, here, it was the top two ranked players in the world who battle it out for the trophy. And what a battle it would be.

Top seed Novak Djokovic was the on-paper favorite at the Open, but he's had surprisingly little hardware to show for his efforts in New York -- despite reaching the final five times before this year, he'd only picked up one trophy. And his summer might not have been exactly what he'd expected -- since taking the title at Wimbledon, he'd finished as runner-up at both hardcourt Masters events, exposing some possible vulnerabilities in his game. But the world #1 came out swinging in the Big Apple, dropping just three games in his opening round and later scoring a hugely lopsided victory over defending champion Marin Cilic in the semis. The win gained him entry to his fourth Slam final of the year and a chance to join an illustrious group of double-digit Major winners.

Standing in his way, though -- as he so often is these days -- was Roger Federer. The Swiss superstar hadn't dropped a set during his run in New York and, fresh off a win over Nole in Cincinnati, had some much needed confidence on his side. Still, it'd been more than three years since his last Major victory, and six since he got as far as the final here. But the thirty-four year old has managed to stay more than relevant over the past several seasons, and having not dropped a set in his first six matches -- he only dropped serve twice heading into the final -- it looked like he was in good shape to claim what would be an astounding sixth title at the U.S. Open.

In Sunday's final, though, it was Nole who took the early lead. After exchanging breaks with Roger to start off, he took advantage of somewhat lackluster play from his opponent and grabbed the first set. But Federer seemed reenergized in the second -- with the crowd clearly on his side, he kept Djokovic at bay on his service games and secured the only break of the set to force a best-of-three situation. Both players raised their games in the third, though, and after the second seed failed to covert a slew of break opportunities, it was the Serb who rattled off a couple games in a row to get the two-set-to-one lead. He built a nice cushion in the fourth too, but Federer clearly wasn't about to give up -- he finally broke Novak on his first attempt to serve out the match and nearly did it again on his second. But eventually it was Djokovic who proved the stronger -- with some of the most amazing, heart-stopping play of the entire tournament, he held on to claim victory again, surprisingly just his third in a Major final, and put a cherry on top what might just be his best season yet.

The win now puts Djokovic among the ranks of Pete Sampras, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver -- and of course Roger Federer -- with ten or more Grand Slam trophies to his name. And the way he's playing, even at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, it seems like he's primed to rack up even more. Whether he ultimately goes down in history as one of the greatest players of all time remains to be seen -- but when he's putting up the performances he has against the very best in the world, it sure seems like he could be a contender for that title.

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