Streaking forward on championship point, Novak Djokovic slammed a smash and collapsed in a celebratory splash.
An elastic Djokovic spent the evening showing expansive reach shrinking the court and increasing his imprint on Grand Slam history.
In a clash of champion comebacks, Djokovic dissected Juan Martin del Potro, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in tonight’s US Open final charging to his 14th career Grand Slam crown.
Contesting his record-tying eighth US Open final, Djokovic captured his second straight major title following his straight-sets win over Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon final in July.
It’s a remarkable revival for the former world No. 1 who underwent elbow surgery in February and could barely flex his right elbow.
Seven months later, a beaming Djokovic stood on the sport’s largest Grand Slam stage hoisting the shiny, silver US Open trophy aloft.
“Difficult times, but you learn from adversity, you learn when you’re down, you learn when you have doubtful moments when things are not working out the way you want them to,” said Djokovic, who collected the champion’s check for $3.8 million. “I try to take the best out of those moments.”
Djokovic defeated del Potro for the 15th time in 19 meetings—including a 5-0 mark in their major matches—to win his third US Open title and first since stopping Roger Federer in the 2015 final.
Continuing to climb the ladder of legends, Djokovic raised his 14th major championship equaling his childhood hero, Pete Sampras, for third place on the all-time list.
“I want to say Pete I love you, you’re my idol, I’ll see you soon on the court I hope,” Djokovic quipped.
The triumph comes 16 years after a 31-year-old Sampras won his final major championship in his fairy-tale farewell on the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
While Sampras was physically and emotionally spent after conquering arch-rival Andre Agassi in that 2002 final, Djokovic stormed through this US Open looking like a man with many more majors in his future.
Solidifying his status as a champion for the ages, Djokovic trails only 20-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer and 17-time major champion Rafael Nadal in the all-time Grand Slam list.
A year after an elbow injury forced him to miss the US Open—snapping his streak of 51 consecutive Grand Slam apearances—Djokovic spread the court redirecting del Potro’s power into the corners in a high-percentage baseline attack.
Attacking the Argentinian’s weaker two-handed backhand, Djokovic frequently finished moving forward: he won 28 of 37 trips to net.
Contesting his second Grand Slam final 22 majors after he won his maiden major at the 2009 US Open, del Potro had most of the 23,000-plus fans on his side and continued ripping away at Djokovic’s defense, but could not solve the sixth-seeded Serbian whose squealing sneakers and fierce desire made it seem no ball was beyond his reach.
Shedding tears after the final, del Potro gave Djokovic full credit for a clinical victory.
“To be honest, I was crying till now,” said del Potro, who earned a $1.85 million finalist check. “I’m very sad for being a loser today. But Novak deserved to take the trophy. He played a great match, very smart game. I had my opportunities during the second and third set.
“But I was playing almost at the limit all the time, looking for winners with my forehands, backhands and I couldn’t make it because Novak was there every time. He’s a great champion so I’m glad for him.”
When Djokovic is in form, he wins majors in bunches.
The 31-year-old Serbian collected multiple major championships in a season for the fourth time after winning three Slams in 2011 and 2015 and two in 2016.
On a drizzly day, the closed roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium created slow court conditions before a packed crowd that included Meryl Streep, Jerry Seinfeld, Christie Brinkley and Ryan Seacrest.
Dispensing a pair of drive volleys, Djokovic held at love for 4-3.
Serving with new balls, del Potro blew a 40-love lead as Djokovic locked in and played an unerring point prevailing through a 23-shot rally to break for 5-3.
Striking clean, crosscourt combinations, Djokovic drained a netted forehand from the third seed snatching the 41-minute opener—his 14th consecutive set of the tournament.
Nine years after del Potro made history as the first man to defeat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in succession to capture the 2009 US Open, his buddies from his hometown in Tandil were chanting “Ole, Ole, Ole, Delpo! Delpo!” urging their man to make a stand at the start of the second set.
Scraping through a seven-minute hold, del Potro dodged a pair of break points holding to open the second set.
One hour into the match, Djokovic elevated his level and unsettled the Argentinian.
Luring his opponent forward, del Potro lobbed the 6’6″ del Potro eliciting a tweener he knocked off easily.
The depth of Djokovic’s returns left del Potro trying to deflect daggers off his shoelaces. Shanking a forehand, del Potro dropped serve for the second time for a 2-1 second-set lead.
Punishing a forehand down the line, del Potro earned break points in the sixth game. A suddenly jittery Djokovic was jawing at his box in stress before he mist-hit a couple of forehands giving back the break for 3-all.
Both men were grunting with vigor and Djokovic was routinely exceeding the 25-second serve clock during a marathon eighth game.
Wife Jelena leaned forward in her seat as her husband withstood three break points fighting through a frenetic 22-point hold that spanned 20 minutes for 4-all.
A tense tie break ratcheted up pressure on both players. Del Potro lined up his favored forehand but whacked it into the top of the tape donating Djokovic a 5-4 lead.
Absorbing a battering-ram barrage of forehands from the explosive Argentinian, Djokovic drew successive forehand errors snatching the 93-minute second set and a two-set lead. Del Potro said Djokovic’s defensive wizardry and unerring baseline attack compelled him to play closer to the lines.
“I have my chances in the second set,” del Potro said. “I take the risk with my forehands. I’ve been doing that all the match. Sometimes it go in and sometimes I miss it. But it’s the only way to beat these kind of players. You have to be perfect game during more than three hours. But my mistakes was because of the level of Novak. He plays really well.”
The Wimbledon winner blanketed the baseline in the early stages of the third set suffocating del Potro with his defense.
Struggling to gain traction in extended baseline rallies, del Potro tried bludgeoning the ball with brutal forehands that elicited gasps at times. Djokovic repelled everything the tower of Tandil threw at him, drawing forehand errors to break for a 3-1 third-set lead with a massive uppercut.
A weary del Potro was walking stiff-legged between points, but amped up the aggressive and pace of his flame-thrower forehand breaking right back in the fifth game.
A del Potro double fault handed Djokovic two more break points.
Trying to squeeze his two-handed down the line, del Potro found the alley instead punctuating a grueling 24-shot rally with a stray backhand as Djokovic broke for 5-3.
Racing forward, Djokovic thumped a smash on championship point providing a powerful exclamation point to a declarative three hour, 16-minute triumph as the former No. 1 joins Federer as the second man in the Open Era to win Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back three times.