Pretenders come and go but the king has no intention of abdicating just yet. Novak Djokovic was the latest challenger to attempt to halt Roger Federer's unflinching assault on the game's major honours, but the best player on the planet won the 12th Grand Slam title of his career here last night when he beat the young Serb 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the final of the US Open.
Two months after Rafael Nadal came as near as anyone to taking away the Wimbledon crown Federer has worn for the last five years, Djokovic came closer to denying the world No 1 a fourth successive US Open title than the straight-sets scoreline might suggest. The 20-year-old world No 3, who had beaten Federer in their previous meeting, had points to win both of the first two sets and forced the Swiss into more mistakes than he had made at any stage of the tournament.
Djokovic's forehand was a potent weapon throughout, but errors on his backhand proved crucial. While Federer was not at his best, the world No 1 knows how to go for the kill when his opponent shows any sign of weakness.
The first man for 84 years to win the title here four years in a row, Federer was handed a cheque for $2.4m (about £1.18m), including a $1m bonus following his triumph in the summer US Open Series. The financial rewards, however, will mean little compared to the strengthening of his growing claim to be the greatest player ever to play the game.
Playing in a record 10th consecutive Grand Slam final – Federer is the only man in history to reach the finals of all four majors two years in a row – the Swiss has now won same number of major titles as Roy Emerson. Pete Sampras, with 14, is the only man with more to his name.
While Djokovic will find it hard not to dwell on his missed chances, he has proved here that he can be a major contender for years to come. Having fallen at the semi-final stage of the last two Grand Slam events, he went one better here and underlined his status as one of a triumvirate at the top of the game alongside Federer and Rafael Nadal. Considering he started the year as the world No 16, it is a sensational rise.
The youngest US Open finalist since 19-year-old Sampras won the title in 1990, Djokovic matched Federer shot for shot from the start. Both players hit more unforced errors than winners in a slow-burning first set that lasted 55 minutes.
There were no break points until the 11th game, in which Federer dropped his serve with two successive forehand errors. Djokovic, serving at 6-5, went 40-0 up, only for his backhand to go into momentary meltdown. The Serb wasted a total of five break points and lost the subsequent tie-break 7-4, despite making the first mini-break. A set that he should have won ended appropriately enough on his second double fault of the tie-break and his fifth of the match.
Federer, nevertheless, continued to look less than assured and the world No 1 made a loose start to the second set, losing four of the first five games. Once again, however, Djokovic failed to pull away as Federer broke him to love and won 10 points in succession to level at 4-4.
The end of the second set was virtually an action replay of the first. Serving at 5-6 and 15-40, Federer saved two set points – the second after a Djokovic backhand landed barely a millimetre out – as the Swiss suddenly found a superb rhythm on his serve. He hit four service winners in the tie-break, which he won 7-2 with a magnificent backhand winner down the line after Djokovic had had the audacity to serve and volley.
Even in the final set Djokovic had his chances. Federer was 0-40 down on his serve at 2-2, but once again the Serb faltered on his backhand.
The set went with serve until Djokovic wavered at 4-5. He saved the first match point with a brave forehand winner, but on the second he put an attempted drop shot into the net. Federer sank to his knees, in relief as much as in celebration.Reuse content