After a fortnight of overbearing heat, retirements, Millmania and dodgy dance moves in the stands, we have made it to the men’s final.
Following a supreme performance at Wimbledon, where he looked every inch his old self, we shouldn’t be surprised to find Novak Djokovic in the main event.
The two-time champion will compete in his eighth final at Flushing Meadows this weekend and is on the hunt for a 14th major trophy to bring back to Monte Carlo.
Given the Serb’s unsteady start to the season, when he had to rediscover form and fitness after elbow surgery, the climax of 2018 has been spectacular.
A run to the last eight of Roland Garros was followed by a final at Queen’s and titles at SW19 and Cincinnati. The victory in Ohio made Djokovic ‘Master of the Masters’ as it meant that he had lifted each of the nine Masters 1000 trophies at least once.
On his best surface in New York, the world no.6’s confidence has continued to grow despite the odd hiccup.
The 31-year-old was severely hampered by the heat in his opening round against Marton Fucsovics. Djokovic dropped a set before a revitalising ice bath after the third set helped him over the line.
Djokovic also momentarily lost concentration against Tennys Sandgren in his second outing but has been ruthless ever since. Richard Gasquet, Joao Sousa, Roger Federer’s conqueror John Millman, and Kei Nishikori have all been dispatched in straights.
The 13-time major winner was particularly devastating against Nishikori on Friday night. He served excellently, imposed himself on every return game and eventually dissected the Japanese from the back court.
In short, the old Nole is back. So where are we with the old Delpo?
It has been nine summers since Juan Martin del Potro took New York by storm and claimed his sole grand slam. That year, the Argentine swatted Rafael Nadal aside in the semis before surprising Roger Federer in a wonderful five-set final.
Sadly, as we know, four wrist surgeries over the years have prevented the Tower of Tandil from achieving the spoils he might have. Thankfully, the 29-year-old version of Delpo is fit, determined and in excellent form.
Del Potro started the season as runner-up in Auckland and it has only improved since then. The Argentine claimed the Acapulco title in February with noteworthy wins over Dominic Thiem, Alex Zverev and Kevin Anderson during the week.
Delpo was merely warming up in Mexico.
After the arduous journey of recent years, it was wonderful to watch the affable Argie claim the first Masters 1000 of his career at Indian Wells. The excellent form continued with deep runs at Miami, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Los Cabos, pushing him to no.3 in the ATP Rankings.
The US Open is del Potro’s favourite tournament and surrounded by 12 amigos from his hometown, he has really enjoyed himself. Donald Young, Denis Kudla, Fernando Verdasco and Borna Coric were unable to trouble him in the first four rounds.
The gargantuan-serving John Isner did take the first set of their quarter-final clash before del Potro recovered in four. Then, in a highly anticipated semi-final, the Argentine advanced past world no.1 Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard retired with knee trouble.
Nadal’s unfortunate ailment has given del Potro the opportunity to play in his first major final since that special night in 2009. The task of winning this Sunday is at least as steep as it was nine years ago.
The stats point to a Djokovic victory as the Serb has a commanding 14-4 lead in their head-to-head. The 31-year-old won all three of their bouts in 2017 and has won six of the last seven meetings.
Setting them aside, Djokovic has looked simply awesome in New York. His movement, serving and baseline play look as good as ever and he was in a completely different class to Kei Nishikori in their semi.
In del Potro’s favour, this is his favourite tournament and he tends to get inspired on the biggest stages against the best players. With his victory over Nadal, the Argentine has now beaten nine reigning world no.1s, the most of any player in history who hasn’t reached the summit themselves.
The key aspects to follow in the final are how del Potro’s backhand stands up in rallies and how difficult it is for him to hold serve.
The owner of one of the biggest forehands will come up against one of the best returners when two former #USOpen champions battle for the final on Sunday…
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2018
The Argentine’s two-hander has been excellent this fortnight and a fine compliment to his serve and forehand. That said, it is still the ‘weaker’ wing so Djokovic will try to get into as many lengthy rallies as possible, particularly backhand-to-backhand, until the stroke breaks down or pops up a short ball.
Del Potro has one of the best serves around with 68 aces so far this fortnight. If Djokovic, the greatest returner tennis has seen, can snatch two or three points in most of the Argentine’s service games, there will only be one winner.
Sunday night will be a clash between Djokovic’s unparalleled defence and del Potro’s brutal offence. Whoever succeeds, it should be quite a spectacle.