Yesterday, the U.S. Open men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray summed up everything that I love about the U.S. Open. The 4 hour and 53 minute battle was a classic that not only tested the finalists’ physical limits but their willpower as well. They fought through high winds and put on an epic display of tennis that will not be soon forgotten.
Murray was carrying the weight of a nation on his back, in search of the 1st major victory for a British player since 1936. Djokovic was trying to earn his 2nd major of the year and reestablish himself as the dominant figure in the sport. Compelling enough as it was, but add the fact that the two were born 7 days apart in 1987 and have competed against each other since they were 11 years old. Not to mention, they had already played an epic 5-set match earlier this season in the Austrailian semis – with Djokovic coming out on top. A thrilling, drama-filled and exhausting 5-setter was gravy and only makes the story even more amazing.
The final was being played on a Monday for the 5th straight year due to the tournament being delayed by weather. The 4 PM start time rendered Arthur Ashe relatively empty when the match began. By the time the match reached a 1st set tiebreak, the seats filled up and it became clear that this final was going to be a classic. Both players are so fun to watch because of their court coverage and quickness. There was plenty of both of those on display throughout the match as points were often decided after 15-20+ rallies. Neither player was willing to budge, battling the elements and of course each other. Finally, Murray edged out Djokovic 12-10 in the tiebreak to take the 1st set.
The 2nd set was more Murray and he was able to hold off a Djokovic charge to secure a 2-set lead. Murray said through tears after losing in the Wimbledon final this year that “he was getting closer.” Now he was the closest he’d ever been – up 2 sets and just 6 games away from his 1st career major title. Possibly the gravity of the situation got to Murray a little, or Djokovic turned it up a notch, or maybe it was a combination of both. But Djokovic cruised through the next 2 sets and evened up the match at 2 sets apiece. Novak has always been the ultimate competitor and I don’t think anyone in the audience or watching at home expected him to rollover after falling behind 2 sets.
After 4 hours of tennis, it was all tied and the huge advantage Murray held evaporated. He had to have been feeling the pressure and realized that his best chance at a major was slipping through his fingertips. Murray didn’t show any signs of that being true though and he came out and broke Djokovic’s serve in the first game of the 5th set. Murray had the upperhand after that and the crowd was behind him.
As the 5th set progressed, surprisingly it was Murray, with drastically improved fitness, who outlasted Djokovic instead of vice versa. Novak began dealing with a groin cramp late in the match and it might not have decided the match but it definitely curtailed any comeback he could muster after Murray got the early 5th set advantage.
Murray didn’t take his foot off the gas, and by the time Djokovic’s ball flew long on match point, you could feel the weight-lifted off his shoulders. He always said he enjoyed playing in New York and if Monday’s crowd was any indication, New York was happy to have Murray’s first grand slam come at the U.S. Open.
It was a sensational tennis season, with 4 different men winning each major. It was also a memorable U.S. Open that saw the rise of a couple of stars after the usual suspects exited earlier than normal. It should be a very interesting upcoming year in tennis with Nadal’s health in question, Federer continuing to age and Djokovic and Murray appearing to establish themselves as the next Federer-Nadal like rivalry. Don’t discount the likes of Ferrer and Tipsarevic either, who both had strong showings at this year’s U.S. Open.
Congrats to Murray and congrats to Great Britain. First the Olympics and now a victory at a major has changed the script. Murray will now be as revered as Fred Perry, instead of being the next Brit in line to try and match his accomplishments. Only Murray and his recently hired coach Ivan Lendl had lost their first 4 grand slam finals. Lendl would go on to appear in 8 straight U.S. Open finals and now with Lendl’s guidance, Murray seems poised for a similar stretch of great tennis. He has proven his name belongs up there with the current Big 3 – perhaps now it is even the Big 4 of men’s tennis.