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Djokovic wins Open in brilliant fashion

Novak Djokovic was brought to his knees after winning the US Open, beating Rafael Nadal for the sixth time this year. Novak Djokovic was brought to his knees after winning the US Open, beating Rafael Nadal for the sixth time this year. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / September 13, 2011

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NEW YORK - Novak Djokovic produced a nearly perfect performance to match his nearly perfect season.

Returning brilliantly, swatting winners from all angles, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic held on to beat defending champion Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1, last night in a final chock-full of lengthy, mesmerizing points to earn his first US Open title and third Grand Slam trophy of 2011.

Djokovic improved to 64-2 with 10 tournament titles in a simply spectacular year, one of the greatest in the history of men’s tennis - or any sport, for that matter.

“I’ve had an amazing year,’’ Djokovic said, “and it keeps going.’’

Against No. 2 Nadal, Djokovic is 6-0, all in finals - three on hard courts, including yesterday; two on clay; and one on grass at Wimbledon in July. Djokovic also won the Australian Open in January, and is only the sixth man in the 40-plus years of the Open era to collect three major titles in a single season.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, but you know what this guy is doing is unbelievable,’’ Nadal said.

Addressing Djokovic, Nadal added: “What you did this year is impossible to repeat, so well done.’’

The best win-loss record in the modern era was John McEnroe’s 82-3 in 1984, although that included two Grand Slam titles, because he lost in the French Open final and didn’t enter the Australian Open. Roger Federer was 81-4 in 2005 with two majors, exiting twice in the semifinals.

Rod Laver (twice) and Don Budge are the only men to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a year.

Djokovic attributes his rise this season to a number of factors, including a vastly improved serve, better fitness - owing, at least in part, to a gluten-free diet he doesn’t like to discuss in any detail - and a seemingly endless reservoir of confidence that dates to December, when he led Serbia to its first Davis Cup title.

That’s where Djokovic began a 43-match winning streak that ended with a loss to Federer in the French Open semifinals. The only other blemish on Djokovic’s 2011 record was a loss to Andy Murray in the Cincinnati Masters final last month; Djokovic stopped playing while trailing, citing a painful shoulder.

That was the 24-year-old Serb’s last match before heading to Flushing Meadows. His shoulder was fine, clearly, and while he was treated by a trainer for a bad back three times in the late going yesterday - perhaps the reason his serves slowed to the 90-mile-per-hour range - he overcame it.

With both men playing fantastic, court-covering defense, there were more than two dozen points that lasted at least 15 strokes.

Nadal won a trio of major titles in 2010, including beating Djokovic in the US Open final. But this rematch was more of a mismatch, with Djokovic quickly turning things around after falling behind, 2-0, in each of the first two sets.

Only in the third set did Djokovic really falter, getting broken while serving for the match at 6-5, then being outplayed in the tiebreaker.

But in the fourth set, Djokovic was in control from the start, breaking in the opening game with a forehand winner, then cruising from there.

When Djokovic ended it with another forehand winner, he raised his arms, then tossed aside his racket and dropped to the court. He pulled off his shirt and threw it into the stands, then put on a dark hat with “FDNY’’ written on it - a nod to Sunday’s 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which both he and Nadal mentioned during the trophy ceremony.

Of all of Djokovic’s skills, the one that separated him the most across the 4-hour 10-minute final was his return. He repeatedly sent serves back over the net and at Nadal’s feet, forcing errors or taking control of the point, helping Djokovic accumulate an astounding 26 break points and convert 11.

Consider this: When Nadal completed his career Grand Slam by winning last year’s US Open, he was broken a total of five times in seven matches.

Another telling statistic: Four times yesterday, Nadal broke Djokovic - only to have Djokovic break right back.

Nadal, of course, is no slouch himself. At 25 years old, he owns 10 Grand Slam titles.

He has acknowledged, though, that Djokovic holds a psychological advantage. Late in yesterday’s first set, Djokovic hit two drop shots that the normally relentless and indefatigable Nadal didn’t even bother to chase.

Serena Williams was fined $2,000 by the US Open yesterday for berating the chair umpire during her 6-2, 6-3 loss to Sam Stosur in the women’s final.

On Sunday night, Williams faced a break point while serving in the first game of the second set.

Williams ripped a forehand that she celebrated with her familiar yell of “Come on!’’ But chair umpire Eva Asderaki ruled that the scream came while Stosur was reaching for a backhand, so the point wasn’t finished. Based on the hindrance rule, Asderaki awarded the point to Stosur, putting the Australian ahead, 1-0, in that set.

That set Williams off on a series of insults directed at the official. A sampling of what Williams said, prompting Asderaki to call the code violation:

■“You’re out of control.’’

■“You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.’’

■“Really, don’t even look at me.’’