Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer at the US Open in four enthralling sets to win his third Grand Slam title of the year and tenth in all. In doing so, he becomes the eighth man to join that elusive club of ten major titles and is just the third man to reach all four major finals in the same year.
With all the focus on Serena Williams during the two weeks at Flushing Meadows and whether or not she could complete a historic calendar Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic's season was somewhat overshadowed. He had already won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, reached the French Open final and won a further four Masters 1000 titles. An outstanding season already, with plenty left to play, he constructed a masterful defensive performance against a rampant Federer, who was yet to drop a set and had only dropped serve twice thus far.
One match too far for Federer
Federer was aiming to elevate himself further ahead of his fellow greats with an unprecedented eighteenth major title, and a first in three years. But it had a similar feel to his previous two previous final appearances at Wimbledon, also against Djokovic. He was the man in form, possibly playing the best tennis of his life, which at 34 years of age is a quite remarkable feat. But much like Wimbledon, he peaked in the semi-final and just couldn't quite hit those heights again, particularly on his serve.
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Despite the match lasting nearly four hours, this was mainly due to the length of the points and the number of times each game went the distance. Federer, in particular, was very quick to get on to the next point, and it was non-stop action throughout. Djokovic to his credit, slipped and fell hard early on, grazing numerous body parts, but only stopped to wipe himself down before carrying on like the fighter he is.
Federer hit the heights of his semi-final against Wawrinka in the second set, as he found his rhythm on serve and constantly threatened the World No.1's serve. He started the third set in much the same vain and had break chances early on, didn't convert and was subsequently broken. In fact, this was the case for the rest of the match as Federer had double break point on numerous occasions along with other break points but just couldn't convert enough of them. The Swiss maestro had 23 break points but could only convert four of them, including only one out of eleven on the second serve of Djokovic.
These kind of matches are always won on the big points and if Federer had taken more of his big points, this clash could have turned in his favour and he could have even won it in four sets himself. But credit where credit is due for Federer. At 34 years old, he has completely reinvented himself into an attacking player who can hurt absolutely anyone. He can beat Djokovic, it just wasn't to be his day, but expect him to finish the year strongly and don't be surprised if he cleans up in Paris, Shanghai and London. In reaching his first final in New York for six years, he further cements his spot as the World No.2 over Andy Murray after another disappointing Grand Slam for him.
Tenacious Djokovic powers though
The mental strength shown by Djokovic throughout the match was unlike anything ever seen before in a major final. The match had a Davis Cup feel to it and it was as if Federer was back home in Basel as the crowd erupted on every point won by Federer, and even every point squandered by Djokovic. A first serve wide, long or into the net from Djokovic received huge applause, no matter what the score was at the time and that was utterly disrespectful to a phenomenal athlete and multiple Grand Slam champion.
The new, ultra-offensive Federer was diffused many times by Djokovic. The Serb was clearly unsettled by Federer's tactic to use the 'SABR' but Djokovic quickly discovered how to nullify it with two tremendous lobs in succession. Unsurprisingly, we didn't see the 'SABR' again until late on in the match. Djokovic himself switched to a more offensive style which worked a treat. The depth on his groundstrokes was extraordinary as always and something that doesn't allow Federer to play his regular game of standing right on the baseline, simply because the ball would be at his feet more often than not in the long rallies.
How far can the Serb reach?
Djokovic will remain firm favourite for each and every Grand Slam next year, including his personal favourite, the Australian Open in January. A win there would take him to 11 major titles and put him alongside the greats of Rod Laver and Björn Borg. He will feel extremely hard done by if he doesn't win the French Open at some point in his career, much like Federer would have done if he didn't and there's no real doubt he will win it at some point. If he was to win the opening two Grand Slams of 2016, he would complete the collection and achieve the career Grand Slam, as well as creating his own unique bit of history by holding all four majors at the same time in what I can only imagine would be named the 'Novak Slam.'
For the second time in his career, he has won three out of the four majors in the same year, a feat he also managed in 2011, and that is something Federer managed to do an impressive three times in his career. Federer, though, had achieved that by the age of 26 and at 28, the same age as Djokovic, he had acquired 15 major titles, five more than Djokovic currently owns. At that stage though, many were writing off the Swiss as they felt he was lucky to overtake Pete Sampras, largely to the temporary demise of Rafael Nadal at the right moment, allowed Federer to collect more majors against arguably lesser opposition. Not many saw Federer adding two more to that tally, though.
But having just had a stellar year, at 28, Djokovic is by no means on his way out. In his 29th year, Federer was no longer favourite for the Slams, Djokovic will be. But in order to overtake more of the tennis greats, Djokovic must remain injury-free, which he has somehow managed to do throughout his career, despite the punishing style of play he enforces upon himself. The World No.1 clearly looks after himself extremely well. But to win eight more majors and overtake Federer, is a huge ask. He's won eight majors in the last four years, so even if he were to play at the highest level for the next four years, winning eight majors in that time would be some feat.
There are lots of new challengers appearing and not to forget the old guard. Federer looks as though he will keep reaching the latter stages of the majors more often than not. Andy Murray is very consistent, and you can never rule out a comeback from 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal. Roland Garros is his second home and having won an incredible nine times there already, don't be surprised if he makes that double figures.
Then you've got the other major winners, Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka and even perhaps a return for Juan Martin del Potro at some point. As for the new breed, Kei Nishikori reached last year's US Open final, big servers Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson are constantly adding new aspects to their game to add to their monstrous serves. Grigor Dimitrov will hope to find himself again in 2016 and Borna Coric is certainly one to watch out for.
One thing that all of those players have in common is inconsistency, though. Perhaps it's wrong to even try and compare their consistency to the likes of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray though. That is an unrivalled era where those players always got to the back end of the big tournaments, and that level of consistency from four players is unlikely ever to be matched.