Djokovic Wins 1st U.S. Open Title, Beats Nadal

Novak Djokovic has won the men's title at the U.S. Open. He beat defending champion Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated and Steve Inskeep recap Monday's final match.

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

If anyone doubted that Novak Djokovic is the most dominant player in men's tennis he proved them wrong yesterday.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And there it is.

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GREENE: After he won, Djokovic collapsed on the court in one dramatic show of joy. He bested Rafael Nadal in a thrilling four set final at the U.S. Open that featured plenty of long rallies with Djokovic usually on the winning end. And get this, the numbers tell quite a story. This was Djokovic's 64th win of the year. He's only lost two matches. Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim has been covering the Open in New York and joins us once again.

Jon, good morning.

JON WERTHEIM: Good Morning.

GREENE: Let's talk about that first set to start off with. Djokovic started off a little wobbly, down 0-2, but then he wins six games straight. What turned things around?

WERTHEIM: Well, it was a strange match to start with, just a Monday afternoon final. It was very windy. Nadal struck first. And then Djokovic sort of started dialing in his strokes again. And it resembled all their matches this year, where he dictated a lot of the play. And, as you say, after that initial hiccup, he really started rolling.

GREENE: And he's rolled over Nadal all year, we should say.

WERTHEIM: Absolutely. This is the sixth time they've met and he's won each one.

GREENE: Well, Nadal did not go down too easily. He staged a comeback, taking the third set yesterday. And the crowd really seemed to want him to take the match to a fifth. But he fell short. Why didn't Nadal have answers in the end?

WERTHEIM: It really shows that tennis is a game of match ups. And the strokes for Nadal that are so effective against everyone else don't do much damage against Djokovic, at least not this year. And he also seems to wear out Nadal, Djokovic does, where by the fourth set Nadal really had very little left.

Djokovic had this injury timeout, where he certainly owes that trainer a tip or, you know, at least a Harry and David's fruit basket come Christmas, because after that Djokovic was back to his old self and Nadal seemed fatigued in the fourth set after this gripping tie breaker in the third set. The fourth set was actually very routine for Djokovic.

GREENE: Well, can we put this in a little perspective? I don't want to overstate it, but 64 wins, 2 losses. Is this the best year in men's tennis ever?

WERTHEIM: I think it's hard to overstate. I think it's just phenomenal. I would even go further and say we have to talk about this as one of the great single seasons in individual sports. I mean, not only - the record sort of stands for itself. But he's doing this on different continents, on different surfaces, over the entire year.

And remember the big knock when athletes such as Tiger Woods have these great seasons, you say, well, who was the competition? You can't say that now. I mean, this is being done in the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. And, as you day, Djokovic has lost two matches all year. So this is just a phenomenal achievement.

GREENE: Well, let's go back to last year's U.S. Open final. Djokovic loses to Nadal. Few could've expected this incredible year coming out of that. What did he change to make himself so invincible this year?

WERTHEIM: That is the great mystery in tennis. I mean, some of this is technological, that he used a new racket. Some of this is physical. He, of course, has this (unintelligible) of the unpaid spokesman for gluten-free eating.

I think a lot of this is just mental - that confidence begets confidence. He began winning and it really hasn't stopped. And on the other side of the net, other players know they have really got to have the match of their life.

I mean, this guy plays impenetrable defense. He doesn't have a whole lot of weakness. He's become a more offensive player. And he really, I mean, this guy was locked in number - sort of consigned to number three for years and years and years. And all of a sudden he has just - he's kicked it up a notch, as they say. And the other players have retreated a bit. And suddenly we have a clear cut number one now.

GREENE: All right. That's Jon Wertheim, who covers tennis for Sports Illustrated.

Jon, thanks for joining us as always.

WERTHEIM: Anytime.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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