NEW YORK — For Novak Djokovic to ascend back onto to mountaintop of men’s tennis, it required an actual climb to a mountaintop in the south of France reset his focus and perspective. Once atop the literal mountain, Nole has yet to come down the figurative one as he is now officially back to his peak tennis powers after another Grand Slam victory this summer.
In a men’s tournament that felt more like Survivor with the high number of retirements, mostly due to the brutally hot and humid conditions, it was Djokovic who outlasted everyone in the field through the fortnight, finishing off his 14th Grand Slam win with a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over Juan Martín del Potro in the men’s singles final on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Going back to his Wimbledon win in July, Djokovic has won 22 of his last 23 matches, and his win today matched the great Pete Sampras with those 14 Grand Slams.
Pete Sampras is one of the biggest legends ever to play the game. He was my childhood idol,” said Djokovic.” He was someone I was looking up to. The first actual thing I saw related to tennis on the TV was his first or second Wimbledon championship. That inspired me to start playing tennis.”
While the summer has been one to savor, it was not long before that when Djokovic was in rehab and in a tennis funk. He started the season in Melbourne after missing the last six months of 2017 with an elbow injury and, after a Round of 16 loss to Hyeon Chung at the Australian Open, Djokovic underwent surgery on the troublesome elbow. Winning Grand Slams seemed miles away at that point.
In the midst of working his way back to good health, Djokovic reunited with his longtime coach, Marian Vajda, back in April. Despite a loss in the quarterfinals of the French Open to then-unheralded Marco Cecchinato, Djokovic said he was encouraged by the fact that he was playing pain-free for the first time in about two years.
After the French Open, Djokovic disconnected from the tennis world temporarily, as he and his wife, Jelena, went hiking for five days and eventually climbed the top of a mountain called Sainte-Victorie. From the rarefied air of being at the top of the tennis world, the rarefied air he and his wife were breathing at the mountain top was the start of Nole 2.0 in 2018.
“We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation,” said Djokovic. “I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me in a way. It was all positives. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. The rest is history in terms of results, in terms of how I felt. I just felt like a whole wave of energy that I was kind of thriving on from that moment onwards.”
The mountain is said to have inspired a number of famous painters, including Pablo Picasso, and Djokovic’s form since the mountain journey has as delightful to see as a Picasso work. At Wimbledon, Djokovic won his third Wimbledon title, defeating Rafael Nadal in a marathon semifinal match that ended 10-8 in the fifth set before dispatching Kevin Anderson in the final. His rich vain of form continued in the United States, including winning in Cincinnati to complete the Golden Masters Slam by winning every Premier/Masters 1000 tournament at least once in his career.
The heat of New York may have been the only thing that could have stopped Djokovic, something that he struggled mightily with, particularly in a four-set first-round match against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics where both players took an ice bath between sets. From then on, it was relatively smooth sailing, as Djokovic won 18 of 19 sets in the last six matches combined. Against Delpo, Novak’s defense once again blunted the power of the Argentinian while his return game put del Potro under pressure in a number of service games. Djokovic was able to break del Potro four times tonight, something that had happened to del Potro just seven times in six matches combined coming into tonight.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday’s final, with all photos taken by A Lot of Sports Talk senior photographer Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 17 pictures in total.