Maybe it helped that he lost to a good friend. Maybe it helped that he put up a good fight while fighting his own body. And maybe after the long run to the U.S. Open final, Novak Djokovic finally can get some rest.
This has been a superb but testing season for Djokovic. He’s won the Australian and French Opens, shockingly was beaten at Wimbledon by American Sam Querrey and he reached the final of the Open, losing a four-set struggle against buddy Stan Wawrinka Sunday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
When it was done he heaped praise on Wawrinka as being the most courageous, of having the biggest game and being the most deserving of champions.
But during the match he twice had a bloodied, blistered toe, tended to during a medical timeouts. He seemed to wrench his left leg in the fourth set. In early rounds he had his right arm and shoulder frequently tended to on court. He developed a right wrist problem practicing for the Rio Olympics and was beaten in the first round there by Martin del Potro. He pulled out of the prestigious Cincinnati tournament two weeks before the Open, an event he often used to tune up for the final Grand Slam of the year.
“I didn’t know I was going to come to the Open because I was troubled physically,” Djokovic said Sunday night. “I decided eight, nine days before the start of the Open to just try. To play the finals, it’s just amazing.”
His road to the final couldn’t have been much smoother and likely was the reason he made it at all. Jiri Vesely pulled out of their third-round match with an arm injury. In Djokovic’s next match, Mikhail Youzhny pulled out after six games with a hamstring injury. In the semifinals, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired after two sets with a knee injury.
Sunday night’s match was 3 hours, 55 minutes. Djokovic had spent only 8:58 on court during the first six rounds, playing 13 complete sets. His total of just under 13 hours of playing time through the full seven rounds likely is a record for this or any other Grand Slam. Wawrinka had played 17:54 on court before the final, playing 23 sets in six matches.
But Djokovic was hurting again.
“My toe nails were off and bleeding,” he said. “Tough to move around. I tried.”
Djokovic has won seven tournaments this season (66 for his career) and was the clear No. 1 player coming in. His lost to No. 3 Wawrinka and his ranking won’t change.
“I’ve set a high standard over last couple of years,” Djokovic said. “But tomorrow I’ll probably look at this and say, ‘Wow, I made the final.’ That’s pretty good.”