2018, US Open

US Open, New York
August 27-September 9, 2018; 128 draw (32 seeds); Surface – Hard

Final: (6)Novak Djokovic d. (3)Juan Martin del Potro    6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3

delpodjoke_usopen18It was never in doubt. The 2018 US Open proved to be a survival of the fittest and Djokovic was the last man standing on Sunday. The Serbian claimed his third title in New York on a rainy evening at the hard-court Grand Slam, prevailing over Del Potro. It was his 14th major crown in total, moving him into a tie for third on the Open Era list, alongside Pete Sampras. Two days after reaching a record-tying eighth US Open final, Djokovic completed his quest in front of a packed crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium, becoming the 50th champion at the prestigious tournament. He joins Roger Federer (5), Jimmy Connors (5), Pete Sampras (5), John McEnroe (4), Rafael Nadal (3) and Ivan Lendl (3) as players to lift the trophy on three or more occasions. Up to No. 2 in the ATP Race To London, Djokovic moved to within striking distance of Nadal for the top spot. The Serbian, who qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the 11th time on Friday, owns 6,445 points, while the Spaniard has 7,480. The upcoming Shanghai Rolex Masters could prove critical in the quest to finish year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. With both trying to navigate through tricky, slower conditions, they would remain on serve through the first seven games. Del Potro had a 40/0 lead at 3:4, but Djokovic would reel off five straight points to snatch the opening break in stunning fashion. Del Potro tried to hit through the Djokovic defence and break down the Serbian’s game to no avail. A netted backhand would seal the opening set after 42 minutes. The Serbian’s speed continued to rattle the Tandil native in the second set. An elastic wall from the back of the court, he would secure a quick break for 2:1 behind a whopping 97 per cent of returns made. But Djokovic would finally blink midway through the second, seeing his streak of 23 consecutive holds snapped. A 125 mph ace would suddenly put Del Potro ahead 4:3 as he consolidated his first break of the match. djokovic_champ_uo18With Djokovic’s shots falling short, the Argentine sought to wrestle momentum. But a marathon 20-minute game looked to be the turning point, as Djokovic fought off three break points and stayed the course in the ensuing tie-break. Del Potro’s unforced FH error at 4-all gave the Serbian a pair of set points and he would convert his first. After a gladiatorial 95-minute set, the two-time champion took a commanding two-set lead. Having won 55 per cent (41-34) of points under five shots through the first two sets, Djokovic owned the short rallies that Del Potro’s typically dominates. Matching his big-hitting opponent with every forehand, the impressive display bled into third set. He would win a stretch of six of seven games, breaking for 3:1 and eventually finding the finish line after 3 hours and 15 minutes. He struck an overhead smash to clinch his first championship point. “I’m very sad for being a loser today,” said Del Potro. “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.” Stats of the match.

2nd semifinal: (6)Novak Djokovic d. (21)Kei Nishikori    6-3, 6-4, 6-2

Twelve months ago, Djokovic sat at home as Rafael Nadal lifted the trophy at the US Open. What a difference a year makes. On Sunday, the two-time champion will have the opportunity to reclaim his throne at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Not only did Djokovic reached his eighth US Open final on a steamy evening in Flushing Meadows, but in doing so, the Serbian secured his place at the Nitto ATP Finals, qualifying for the season finale at The O2 in London for the 11th time. The battle of boisterous backhands was owned by Djokovic, who dominated from the baseline throughout the encounter. Nishikori had little response for his penetrating ground game, as the Serbian refused to allow his opponent to step into the court and establish any rhythm. Rattled by djoko_usopen18Djokovic’s trademark defence, Nishikori struck 51 unforced errors and faced 17 break points during the two-and-a-half hour affair. “I was coming into today’s match knowing I’m going to play a player who is very quick and takes away a lot of the time from his opponent,” said Djokovic. “He just likes to go for his shots. I knew that if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, that I’ll have my chance to kind of break through and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors. That’s what happened. I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. I was returning well. I was putting constant pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always. The match was really, really good from my side.” Djokovic did not waste any time under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium, converting his fifth break chance for an immediate 2:0 lead. After relinquishing just four points on serve in the opener, he continued to apply pressure in the second set. Facing 2-all 0/40, Nishikori saved a break point with a beautiful drop shot, but was unable to stave off the Serbian’s offensive barrage for long. Refusing to flinch, the 31-year-old surged to a two-set lead and snatched the decisive break for 2:1 in the third, as a Nishikori backhand found the net. It was one-way traffic from there, as Djokovic celebrated his 39th match win of the year after 2 hours and 22 minutes, securing his second match point with a lunging backhand winner.

1st semifinal: (3)Juan Martin del Potro d. (1)Rafael Nadal    7-6(3), 6-2 ret.

Del Potro is moving into his second Grand Slam final. After the 2009 champion took the first two sets Nadal retired due to knee tendinitis. Nine years ago, the Argentine captured his first Grand Slam title here in Flushing Meadows. But four wrist surgeries would send him as low as No. 1,045 in the ATP Rankings in February of 2016. Now, the ‘Tower of Tandil’ is arguably better than ever, at a career-best No. 3 and trying to come full circle where he first broke through nearly a decade ago. “I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam final here, which is my favourite tournament,” Del Potro said. “I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment. I’m here now. It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I’ve been playing a great tournament and I will be happy.” Del Potro owns more wins against the top player in the ATP delpo_nadal_usopen18Rankings than anyone else who has not held the spot, with 10. He has three more than Michael Chang and Richard Krajicek, who are second on the list with seven victories apiece against a World No. 1. While leading 4:3, Nadal got his right knee taped, before later ripping it off and getting it taped again early in the second set. But after the Argentine blasted a forehand winner to close out the second set – his 29th winner of the match – Nadal could not continue. “I waited as much as I can. You could imagine [it’s] very difficult for me to say good-bye before the match finishes. But at some point you have to take a decision,” Nadal said. “It was so difficult for me to keep playing at the same time that way, having too much pain. That was not a tennis match at the end. It was just one player playing, the other one staying on the other side of the court. I hate to retire, but staying one more set out there playing like this would be too much for me.” The 32-year-old still holds a tremendous 24-5 record in major semi-finals overall. Del Potro broke and held two set points at 5:4, but could not convert. Yet with the momentum seemingly on the top seed’s side, Del Potro was too strong from the baseline in the tie-break. Del Potro is known to have one, if not the most, dangerous forehand in tennis, but he was also plenty aggressive off his backhand wing. The Argentine developed a knifing slice after his wrist injury, but he hit through the ball quite a bit off that wing on Friday, striking a couple of massive passing shots for winners. He also did a good job using the wide serve in an attempt to open the court for an aggressive second shot in front of a crowd that included Alec Baldwin and Chevy Chase. “I can’t say that I am happy because I am not. I will not lie you. But, yes, he’s a player that went through lot of issues during his career, like me,” Nadal said of Del Potro. “I know how much frustration can be when you can’t do the thing that you want to do. He knows very well. Happy for him that he’s able to be back at his top level. [I] wish him all the best. For him [it] will be huge if he’s able to win a Grand Slam again.Stats of the match

4th quarterfinal: (6)Novak Djokovic d. John Millman    6-3, 6-4, 6-4

While on paper, Djokovic had cruised past Millman in their only previous meeting – earlier this year at Queen’s Club – he knew Wednesday evening’s US Open quarter-final would not be as easy against the Aussie. Millman did beat five-time champion Roger Federer in the fourth round, after all. But the djokovic_usopen18No. 6 seed took care of business, ending the best tournament of the 29-year-old’s career with a three-set victory in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic remains undefeated in quarter-finals here in Flushing Meadows, reaching the last four at the event for his 11th consecutive appearance. “I really have respect for him,” said Djokovic. “I thought his kind of approach and mindset even before Roger’s match, [his] match against Roger and [the] match against me today, he showed respect to us, but he said, ‘I’m going to go out and I’m going to play. I’m not going [to] play, to satisfy the crowd and make it a nice-looking match. I just want to win. Credit to him for saying that and coming out and really backing that up with a performance. I mean, he’s a great fighter… just all-around player. I think he has had probably the tournament of his life and a match of his life against Roger. He made me run and he made me earn my match today, earn my win.” The 70-time tour-level titlist breaks a tie with Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, now standing alone behind Jimmy Connors, who owns a record 14 US Open semi-finals. It is the second time Djokovic is into the last four at a major this year, following his triumph at Wimbledon. The Serbian will now have a chance to avenge his most recent semi-final defeat in New York when he faces No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori, whom he lost to in the last four in 2014. The Japanese won two of their first three showdowns, with one of them being that semi-final, but Djokovic has reeled off 13 straight in their series since. When asked about facing Nishikori, Djokovic said, “He’s got one of the best two-handed backhands in the game and very quick. If not the quickest, then one of the quickest players on the tour. He has phenomenal footwork. I have played him recently in quarter-finals of Wimbledon. [It was a] tough first two sets, then, after that, I felt like [in the] third and fourth [sets] I played very well. I raised my game.”

3rd quarterfinal: (21)Kei Nishikori d. (7)Marin Cilic    2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4

Four years after their breakthrough runs to the championship match, Nishikori avenged his final loss, recovering from 2-6, 2:4 to beat the Croat . The 2014 runner-up withstood 57 winners and saved seven of 13 break points to advance to his first major semi-final in two years after 4 hours and 8 minutes. “He started very well… I didn’t feel like I was playing great. I had to stay tough, especially in the second set,” said Nishikori. “I started playing better from 2:4. I tried to swing a little more, play aggressive and start working better from. I am really happy to win and to go through matches like this. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t feel like I was playing my best tennis today, but I fought through somehow and it gives me big confidence.” “I came out in the match great, 6-2, 4:2 serving, and everything was going great,” said Cilic. “[There was] just a little bit of a shift of the momentum there. Kei started to hit a little bit better. He broke me. He won six games in a row there, converted three of three break points and just put me back a bit on my back foot. nishikori_usopen18From that point on, I felt the match was quite even… I felt that I created enough chances to even maybe win earlier, win that second set and I had some chances, as well, in the third. [It is] unfortunate to lose that. With a great, quality player like Kei, he also had his chances, and he made it… [the match] came down to couple points.” Cilic started well, extracting backhand errors from his opponent by being aggressive on his forehand to move into a 3:1 lead. The Australian Open finalist increased the pressure on Nishikori with comfortable service holds and moved into a one-set lead with a second break of serve in the eighth game. Appearing in his third Grand Slam quarter-final of the season, Cilic appeared to be striding towards a two-set advantage with another break of serve. But Nishikori immediately pegged back his 6’6″ opponent, capitalising on multiple forehand errors to break to love. Following a comfortable service hold, the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters runner-up, once again, took advantage of nervy play from Cilic to take a 5:4 lead. The 29-year-old hit back-to-back groundstroke errors before conceding the break with his second double fault. He lost six straight games to trail 0:2 in the 3rd set. Despite visible frustration at being unable to break serve, Cilic soon found his range on his forehand and forced Nishikori into forehand errors to level the score at 4-all. After trading a series of mini-breaks early in the tie-break, Cilic hit back-to-back double faults to hand Nishikori a 5:4 lead. The World No. 19 may have been unable to contain Cilic’s forehand in the following point, but soon grabbed a two-set lead with a perfectly-timed backhand return winner. After racing out to 0/40 on Nishikori’s serve at 3-all, Cilic made the first move in the fourth set with a series of powerful forehand blows. The one break was all that was needed, with Cilic forcing a decider with a service hold to 30. “I tried to refocus after losing the fourth set,” said Nishikori. “He was starting to play better again, and I almost lost confidence during the fourth set, but I tried to focus again in the fifth set… It wasn’t easy, but I tried to stay calm and I really focused, especially in the last game.” Nishikori raced out to a 4:1* (40/30) lead in the fifth set, with a crucial break of serve in the fourth game supported by three routine service holds. The 2014 finalist almost doubled his advantage two games later, and held two game points for 5:2 lead, before Cilic battled his way back into the match, winning three straight games. But Nishikori held firm, holding serve before firing a forehand cross-court return winner on his first match point to advance to the semifinals.

2nd quarterfinal: (1)Rafael Nadal d. (9)Dominic Thiem    0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5)

Epic match, lasted 4 hours 49 minutes which makes it one of the longest US Open matches in history (finished after 2 a.m.). Nadal came back from *3:5 in the 3rd set (three points away) and was two points away from winning the match in four sets at 6:5 (30-all) when he missed a relatively easy forehand volley. Thiem had recovered from 0/40 at 5-all in the deciding set, then come within three points of winning the match at 5:4 in the tie-break. He won 171 total points to Nadal’s 165 in their first hard-court meeting. Recovery will be crucial for Nadal, who survived extremely aggressive play by his opponent in a tremendously physical match. The Austrian made it clear from the first point of their clash that he intended to do everything in his power to control rallies, dropping back to take massive cuts at heavy groundstrokes, or courageously stepping in to laser-like winners off both wings. nadal_thiem_usopen18Nadal converted just five of 17 break points in the match. The newly turned 25-year-old even became the first player since Philipp Kohlschreiber in Miami last year to bagel Nadal in a set. It was just the second time someone has taken a set 6-0 against the World No. 1 in New York, with Andy Roddick doing so en route to a straight-sets victory in 2004. But while Thiem thrilled the crowd, it still was not enough. In Nadal’s 17th match over four hours at a major championship to Thiem’s first (his previous longest match was 3:55 hrs, lost to De Bakker in Davis Cup ’15 on clay). “It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever,” said Thiem. “I’m going to remember this match, for sure. Tennis is cruel sometimes, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one. And I would say if we skip the first set, [it] was a really open match from the beginning to the end. The way it ended up in the fifth set tiebreaker, there it’s 50/50.” All 10 of the pair’s previous meetings (Nadal leads 8-3) had come on clay, and the winner of the first set in each of those clashes had gone on to claim victory in the match. Not in this battle. Thiem had reached the fourth round in New York in three of his previous four appearances. But this is the first time he made it this far at a major outside of Roland Garros. The 25-year-old was 0-6 at the three other Slams in the fourth round, but he ended that losing streak by ousting 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson on Sunday. “It will be a very tough one,” said Nadal about his next opponent – Del Potro. “He’s a great player everywhere. But the challenge of playing him on hard, of course, is even higher for me personally than playing against him on clay, like at Roland Garros… I know he’s playing well. I know that I will have to play at my highest level to keep having chances of success. I am focused on trying to make that happen.”

1st quarterfinal: (3)Juan Martin del Potro d. (11)John Isner    6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2

Despite conceding his record as the only man yet to drop a set at the US Open, Del Potro advanced to his third semi-final at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday, recovering from a set down to beat Isner. “I’m so happy to return to the semi-finals at my favourite tournament; that’s very special to me,” Del Potro told ESPN after the match. “Of course beating John in these kind of matches is like an epic. We are both tired… we both fought all the match and I survived with my serve in a couple of important moments of the match.” Del Potro ends Isner’s bid to become the first American semi-finalist in New York since Andy Roddick in 2006. The 12-year wait for a home semi-finalist is the longest drought in tournament history (since 1881). “[Roddick] texted me after I won my second round and my last match against Raonic,” said Isner. “He’s always been a good friend of mine, a very good guy… I do know he’s always rooting for us players to break through.” Del Potro fired 49 winners and saved all three break points he faced to edge past Isner in a tight last-eight encounter. Del Potro said. “I played a good match. I don’t know if I’m playing my best tennis ever, but I’m feeling good. I reached another semi-final in this Grand Slam, which means something big to delpo_usopen18me. I’m very happy for that.” In an opening set short of break opportunities, Del Potro wowed the crowd with a sensational forehand winner up the line in the seventh game. But despite bringing the crowd to their feet, the Argentine was unable to convert the only break point of the set, at 5-all (30/40), and was punished in the tie-break. Isner clinched the only point against serve in the opening-set decider, pressuring Del Potro into a backhand error with a deep approach as he charged to the net. Del Potro continued to apply pressure to Isner’s serve early in the second set, finding success when able to neutralise points. Del Potro lost only three points on serve and committed one unforced error throughout the set. Break chances passed both men by early in the third set, with a second tie-break required to split the two rivals. Del Potro earned the first mini-break of a crucial tie-break as Isner fired wide on his forehand. The former champion soon doubled his advantage, with an angled forehand return, before converting his second set point with a drilled inside-out forehand. Del Potro quickly established a 2:0 lead in the fourth set with a powerful backhand drive, following a series of groundstroke errors from Isner. After landing a forehand winner up the line in the eighth game to earn match point, the Tower of Tandil advanced to the semi-finals, on his first match point, as Isner fired a forehand into the net. After making his Grand Slam semi-final debut earlier this summer at Wimbledon, Isner was bidding to reach the final four in back-to-back major championships.

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