Novak Djokovic ties Pete Sampras for third-most Grand Slam titles with U.S. Open win

Novak Djokovic took another step in the history books at the U.S. Open on Sunday. (AP Photo)
Novak Djokovic took another step in the history books at the U.S. Open on Sunday. (AP Photo)

Juan Martin del Potro put up as strong as a fight as you’ll see in a straight-set win, but it was Novak Djokovic’s day at the U.S. Open men’s final on Sunday.

The Serbian beat del Potro 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 on Sunday to capture his third U.S. Open title and 14th Grand Slam title, again moving his name up in the tennis history books.

Breaking del Potro’s fearsome serve four times, Djokovic won thanks to his always strong return game and an unexpectedly aggressive game at the net. Djokovic ended up approaching the net 36 times, more than double the total of the 6-foot-6 del Potro.

It was a lengthy match despite the two players playing just three sets, ending after three hours and 15 minutes of play.

Even with Sunday’s disappointing result, del Potro’s performance in New York City was laudatory given what the Argentinian has gone through since his triumph at the U.S. Open in 2009. Rendered ineffective for years due to wrist issues, del Potro made his first Grand Slam final since that win over Roger Federer nearly a decade ago.

Djokovic’s win hinged on a pivotal game in the second set

There may have been no game more important to Djokovic’s win or simply more entertaining than the eighth game of the second set. Djokovic broke del Potro early in the set to take a commanding position, but del Potro later broke him back and looked on the verge of taking full control of the match’s momentum.

After holding his serve with ease, an amped-up del Potro aggressively attacked Djokovic from the baseline in the next game. The two reached deuce eight different times, with Djokovic saving three break points. The Serbian eventually came out on top in a game that took 21 minutes to play and made it 4-4 in the second set, but not before we were blessed with this incredible reaction from Meryl Streep.

Both players held serve for the rest of the set, then Djokovic won the tiebreaker 7-4 to go up 2-0 on sets to end del Potro’s best chance of pulling off what would have been a shocking upset.

How Djokovic and del Potro reached the U.S. Open final

Before Friday, Djokovic seemed likely to face Rafael Nadal in the final until Nadal was forced to retire due to injury after his second set against del Potro. That sent the Argentinian to the cusp of his first U.S. Open win since 2009.

Meanwhile, Djokovic had played a relatively smooth tournament, winning his previous four matches in straight sets while the rest of the tournament’s elite fell to upsets.

The two players had battled on the court 18 times before Sunday’s final at the U.S. Open, with Djokovic earning 14 victories against the 29-year-old and winning six of the last seven.

Only one of those wins came in a final, however, with Djokovic knocking off del Potro in three sets to win the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Shanghai in 2013.

Where Novak Djokovic now ranks historically

A 14th Grand Slam title for Djokovic ties him with Pete Sampras for the third-most men’s singles titles in the Open era, behind only his contemporaries Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (17).

Djokovic’s third U.S. Open title also moves him into a tie for fifth all-time in men’s singles titles at New York City during the Open Era, joining Nadal, Oliver Campbell, Ivan Lendl and Fred Perry. Another U.S. Open title would move the him into a tie with John McEnroe for fourth, behind only Sampras, Federer and Jimmy Connors.

It’s clear Djokovic is already one of tennis’ all-time greats, but the question now, as it has been for years, is how much more ground he can make up on Federer and Nadal in the Slams race. His chances might be decent considering he’s looking as surgical as ever at age 31, and he took yet another step forward Sunday at Flushing Meadows.

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