Novak Djokovic won more than a title at the U.S. Open. He charmed crowds that cheered for his opponent in the semifinals and pleaded with him to double fault three years ago.
Djokovic, a 24-year-old Serb, won 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1 against defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain last night to capture his third Grand Slam title of the year. He spent much of this tournament playing to the often boisterous fans at the National Tennis Center in New York.
He danced on court after two of his matches and wore a FDNY cap, honoring the New York firefighters who died on Sept. 11, while claiming his championship trophy a day after the 10th anniversary of those terrorist attacks.
“I just want to give my compassion to the people of 9/11,” he said in an on-court ceremony following the final. “This is more important than a sport. We are playing sport, it’s great, we are enjoying, but we cannot even realize how lucky we are to live and to be able to do something we love, so all our support.”
Djokovic, the top seed, strengthened his place atop men’s tennis with a four-hour win over Nadal, becoming the sixth man to win three Grand Slam championships in a single year and improving his season record to 64-2.
Djokovic also beat Nadal, 25, in the Wimbledon final in July and won the Australian Open in January. The only one of tennis’ four major tournaments he failed to capture this year was the French Open, where he lost to Roger Federer in the semifinals. His victory last night came in a rematch of the 2010 U.S. Open final, which was won by Nadal, this time the second seed from Spain.
‘It Keeps Coming’
“The results that I’ve had this year are amazing, definitely something that I haven’t expected,” Djokovic said in a news conference. “But it keeps coming.”
Djokovic needed a medical timeout early in the fourth set, calling a trainer onto the court to work on his back. He returned from the break to win five of the last six games in the match.
The 4-hour, 10-minute contest featured long points, including a 31-shot rally in the third set. The third game of the second set lasted 22 points and 176 shots, with eight deuces. There were 30 rallies in the match that lasted at least 15 strokes.
Nadal had his serve broken 11 times in 18 games in the final after losing serve 13 times in his six previous matches in the tournament.
Nadal, ranked No. 2 behind Djokovic on the ATP World Tour, has lost all six of his matches this year against the Serb and said he has to focus on how to break that streak.
Six Straight Losses
“Six straight losses, for sure that’s painful,” Nadal said in a news conference. “But I am going to work every day until that changes. I have an easy goal right now.”
Djokovic won $1.8 million for the championship, while Nadal got $900,000.
Only five other men have won three majors in a year since the Open era began in 1968. Nadal did it last year to join Federer of Switzerland, Mats Wilander of Sweden, Jimmy Connors of the U.S. and Rod Laver of Australia, who swept all four Grand Slam titles in 1969.
Djokovic reached the final by recovering from a two-set deficit and two match points to beat Federer, a five-time champion who was seeded No. 3.
Djokovic hasn’t been able to turn his success on court into a flood of endorsements. He has four sponsors listed on his website: Austrian racket manufacturer Head NV, Italian clothing brand Sergio Tacchini International, Serbian telecommunications company Telekom Srbija and German nutritional supplement brand FitLine.
Federer is still the sport’s top money maker with 10 deals, even without a major triumph since a men’s record-extending 16th Grand Slam championship at the 2010 Australian Open. The 30-year-old from Switzerland makes $47 million a year from prize money and endorsements from companies such as Nike Inc., Swiss bank Credit Suisse Group AG and Swiss luxury watch brand Rolex, according to an estimate by Forbes magazine in May.
Nadal makes $31.5 million annually from matches and sponsors. He’s got nine deals, including Nike, Giorgio Armani SpA and Spain’s largest insurer, Mapfre SA.
Djokovic has doubled his income to more than $20 million, about half from tennis winnings. He’s needed more Grand Slam victories to break into bigger deals, according to Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brandRapport.
“Djokovic has come along at a time where Federer and Nadal have got the big deals,” Currie said in an interview before the U.S. Open started last month. “This season, he’s emerged from their shadows and it takes time to get past them and for the world to realize this guy is the genuine article.”
43 Straight Wins
Djokovic, who became the world’s top-ranked player following his Wimbledon win, began a run of 43 straight victories when he led Serbia to its first Davis Cup title in December. The streak ended at the French Open, leaving him one win shy of tying the record of 41 wins to start a season, set by John McEnroe in 1984.
His other defeat this year came against Britain’s Andy Murray last month in Cincinnati, when Djokovic quit the match because of a shoulder injury at 6-4, 3-0.
Nadal was trying for his 11th Grand Slam singles title, which would have tied him with Laver and Bjorn Borg for fourth on the men’s career list. Federer has 16, followed by Sampras (14) and Roy Emerson (12).
Australia’s Samantha Stosur won the women’s championship two days ago with a 6-2, 6-3 victory against Serena Williams of the U.S.
The finals were delayed one day after rain wiped out almost two full days of competition last week and the tournament was extended to a third week for the fourth straight year.
Booed in 2008
Djokovic was booed in Arthur Ashe Stadium for his angry remarks following a win in the 2008 quarterfinals against American Andy Roddick. Fans had yelled out “double fault” as he prepared to serve in that match.
Djokovic said last night that the crowd, which was rooting mostly for Federer in the semifinals three days ago, was evenly split between the two players in the final. Cheers of “No-vak” mixed with cries of “Vamos, Rafa!”
“In many moments I had the crowd chanting my name, and it was great support,” Djokovic said. “Everybody has their own favorite tennis player. I’m still new in this business.”