Last year’s result
Last year Djokovic was unable to play at the US Open as the elbow injury that had been affecting him since 2016 finally broke down completely and forced him away from the Tour. But in previous years his record at the US Open has been excellent, with the Serb having won two titles and reached a further four finals since 2010. He has not lost before the semifinals since 2006. His absence last year may also prove something of a boon in the race to finish as year-end #1.
In the last few months Djokovic has been playing the sort of tennis that took him to the top of the rankings and kept him there for 223 weeks. It’s tennis that has been made all the more impressive when it is remembered that he was undergoing surgery as recently as the end of January. Though it took awhile for him to rediscover his groove, he broke through in Rome and then delivered in full on the grass, smashing through the Wimbledon draw to win his 13th Major title.
In Toronto he never really got going, crashing out in the third round at the hands of Tsitsipas, but a let down was to be expected after his exertions on the grass. In Cincinnati, though at times he advanced more thanks to his force of will than the quality of his tennis, he nonetheless laid down a serious marker by dismissing Federer 6-4 6-4 in the final. In doing so he captured the last big title to elude him and complete the Career Golden Masters and climb back inside the top 8 at world #6.
Most important shot
What makes Djokovic so difficult to beat is that he can do everything on a tennis court. His forehand and backhand are both deadly weapons, his serve may not be one of the best but it so very rarely fails him when he needs it most and his defensive skills are equalled only by Nadal. Nonetheless, as he demonstrated against Federer, there is one area of the game where he truly stands alone. And that is when facing his opponent’s serve, for he is surely the greatest returner of all time.
His ability to read an opponent’s serve is remarkable and puts him out of reach of the likes of Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and David Ferrer. Whilst he does not strike as many return winners as some, so many more of his returns strike a telling blow. His favourite is to drill the ball back down the middle of the court, which often allows him to start the point with the advantage. And with his quality in every other area of the court, beating him then becomes nigh on impossible.
For the top four seeds at this year’s US Open, Djokovic is the nightmare waiting for them in the draw. One of them will be drawn to face him as early as the quarterfinals, and based on current form, the only man who could go into that match with any confidence at all is Rafael Nadal. And even he would have doubts after throwing all he had at Djokovic at Wimbledon and still losing. The aura of invincibility that cloaked Djokovic when he was at the height of his powers is rapidly returning.
Even Federer didn’t look like he believed he could beat him in Cincinnati. And whilst Djokovic has more than once had to endure shockingly partisan crowds in New York, with the 2015 final one of many unfortunate examples, he showed at Wimbledon that the crowd turning against him only fires him up. Nadal might be able to stop him still. No one else will. Djokovic looks poised to strike. Expect the US Open to be going home in his hands.