In a clash to decide the 2018 US Open, former champions Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro will do battle under the lights on Arthur Ashe. Djokovic is seeking his second consecutive Grand Slam title after ending a two-year drought at Wimbledon in July. He also won in Cincinnati to complete the Career Golden Masters in August. For del Potro it is a first Grand Slam final in nine years and only the second of his career. But he won the first. Who will claim the title?
This will be the 19th meeting between Djokovic and del Potro, with the Serbian leading the head-to-head 14-4. Their first match also came at the US Open, in the third round in 2007 where Djokovic won 6-1 6-3 6-4. They also met in New York in 2012 in the quarterfinals and Djokovic was again a straight sets victor, 6-2 7-6 6-4. This will be their first Grand Slam meeting since 2013, when Djokovic won in five sets in a Wimbledon semifinal, but they did meet twice last year, with Djokovic winning both.
Path to the final
Djokovic began his US Open campaign with a 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-0 win over Marton Fucsovics on a brutally hot day. He was not at his best in the second round either, but dispatched Tennys Sandgren 6-1 6-3 6-7 6-2 all the same before thrashing Richard Gasquet 6-2 6-3 6-3 in the third. He battled past Joao Sousa 6-3 6-4 6-3 in difficult conditions in the round of 16 and was again made to work in a 6-3 6-4 6-4 win over John Millman in the quarters. But in the semifinals, he hammered Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-4 6-2.
Del Potro opened his tournament with a 6-0 6-3 6-4 win over Donald Young before dismissing his compatriot Denis Kudla 6-3 6-1 7-6 in the second round. Fernando Verdasco then fell to his power, 5-7 6-7 3-6, in the third before Borna Coric was brought low by a combination of injury and some fine tennis from del Potro who beat him 6-4 6-3 6-1. Isner resisted valiantly in the quarterfinals, but del Potro won in four before defending champion Rafael Nadal retired trailing 6-7 2-6 in the semifinals.
How do they match up?
This match pits one of the Tour’s most dangerous and explosive attacking players in del Potro against Djokovic, one of the most formidable defenders in the sport. Central to del Potro’s chances in this match will be his monstrous forehand. There is little subtlety to the shot, but he strikes it with such venom that he needs none. Continuing to serve well will also be important for del Potro, who has won an impressive 82% of the points behind his first serve, but that falls to just 57% behind his second.
That number may well decrease further against Djokovic who is surely the greatest returner the sport has ever seen. He made Nishikori pay heavily for missed first serves in their semifinal, winning 49% of the points when Nishikori was forced to resort to his second delivery. He, in contrast, was almost untouchable on serve. Nishikori, himself a great returner, only managed to force two break points in the entire match and took neither. Indeed, he won just 18 points in total against the Djokovic serve.
This has all the makings of a classic. There may not be many more chances for del Potro to add to his lone Major title, but he has looked in frightening form all tournament and will likely have the backing of much of the crowd. But Djokovic, despite a slightly shaky start, taught Nishikori a lesson in the semifinals in what was an awe-inspiring performance. He also has far more experience than del Potro of winning the biggest matches. In the vital moments that will prove decisive. Djokovic in five.