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

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.

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2018 US Open Men's Final Match
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2018 US Open Men's Final Match
Sep 7, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates his semi-final win over Kei Nishikori of Japan on day twelve of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY SPORTS
Sept 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina hits to Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the men?s final on day fourteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sept 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits to Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in the men?s final on day fourteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sept 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina hits a return from between his legs to Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the men?s final on day fourteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Novak Djokovic of Serbia reaches for a volley against Juan Mart?n Del Potro of Argentina (not pictured) in the men's final on day fourteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Juan Mart?n Del Potro of Argentina serves against Novak Djokovic of Serbia (R) in the men's final on day fourteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sept 9, 2018; New York, NY, USA; Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina hits to Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the men's final on day fourteen of the 2018 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia hugs Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina after their men's Singles finals match on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia hugs Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina after their men's Singles finals match on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning his men's Singles finals match against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning his men's Singles finals match against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning his men's Singles finals match against Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia hugs Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina after their men's Singles finals match on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after winning against Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro during their Men's Singles Finals match at the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 9,2018. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic kisses the trophy after winning against Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro during their Men's Singles Finals match at the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 9,2018. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP) (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina after winning his men's Singles finals match on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and President of the United States Tennis Association Katrina Adams after winning his men's Singles finals match on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina after winning his men's Singles finals match on Day Fourteen of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 9, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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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 Argentine 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 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 Argentine 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 31-year-old 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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