You may have to call him the quiet man, now, because for the past two weeks, Novak Djokovic may have been the lowest profile champion here at the Open.
Now, Djokovic didn’t do anything wrong, but because of his elbow surgery earlier this year, he had little fanfare coming into Flushing Meadows.
But he kept winning. And winning and winning. Fairly easily for that matter, which may have taken a few by surprise.
Finally, today, he won the big one, 6-3 7-6(4) 6-3, over Juan Martin del Potro to win his third US Open title and 14th overall Grand Slam title, tying Pete Sampras’s mark.
“I know you guys ask me a lot of questions which were related to me, so to say, describing percentage-wise where I am now to where I was three years ago or four years ago.” Djokovic said. “I feel like kind of my mindset always was not to compare myself to any other year or season because my life has turned upside down in the last couple years with so many different things, changes that happened: becoming a father twice, being away from the tour six months, getting surgery, all these different things.
“If you told me in February this year when I got the surgery that I’ll win Wimbledon, US Open, and Cincinnati, would be hard to believe. But at the same time there was always part of me that imagined and believed and hoped that I can get back on the desired level of tennis very soon.”
What was so surprising is that even with the surgery, the 31 year-old could come back and not miss a beat. He won Wimbledon, but still wasn’t the top pick for this past tournament. Because he missed time, he had the No. 6 seed and ranking putting him behind the other household names like Federer and Nadal.
And as the two top seeds were highlighted throughout this tournament, Djokovic was regulated to the undercard. Playing during the day or on Armstrong, as the prime cuts were the given to the two headliners.
He did his job, though, he kept winning and even today, facing the 2009 Champion, who everyone though was rejuvenated and primed for the win, beat him rather easily. Only the second set was in doubt, but Djokovic was able to take the tiebreaker.
And now, you have to wonder. It’s not just Federer and Nadal competing for the Greatest of All-Time, but Djokovic’s name has to go in that conversation. At 31, he’s younger than the both players and he plays a game designed to win, even if it’s more defensive than his counterparts.
“I was talking about this before, that maybe 10 years ago I would say I’m not so happy to be part of this era with Nadal and Federer,” he said. “Actually today I am. I really am. I feel like these guys, rivalries with these guys, matches with Federer and Nadal, have made me the player I am, have shaped me into the player I am today.”
If he does it, it will be with less fanfare. Djokovic is the type of player with less flare and more results. He wins. He’s a tough out and frankly the type of player, who can heal pretty quickly and get back up to speed.
A few years ago, we saw both Federer and Nadal take a half of year off to heal from their injuries and they came back strong. Djokovic did it a matter of two months. Sure, it took him a little time and yes, he lost at Roland Garros, but he didn’t miss any slams and was able to still compete at a high level.
Then his elbow got stronger and playing pain free, Djokovic was able to become the same top player again. With now pain, he was able to beat Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon and the quietly go through the motions here at the Open.
You didn’t hear his name all that much, except in the next round matches.
“For good things,” he said, “it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can center yourself, balance yourself and thrive.”
Now if he can stay healthy, Djokovic has a chance to be the best player in the world next year. Federer will be 38 and Nadal is battling a knee injury that forced him to retire in the Open Semis.
It’s now Novak’s field. Will he be able to dominate?
And something tells me it won’t be as quiet.