Serbia's Novak Djokovic. (Photo: AFP)
Tears flowed down his cheeks copiously but then he does tend to get lachrymose these days. He wept after Carlos Alcaraz beat him in an emotive Wimbledon final. He had wept at Flushing Meadows two years ago too when Daniil Medvedev denied him the rarest of rare feats in men’s tennis of a calendar Grand Slam. This time around, those tears became a torrent of joy as Novak Djokovic logged victory in Grand Slam No. 24 and ended the debate once for all over who is the worthiest and most durable of the winningest men’s tennis champions.
The remarkable thing about Djokovic’s march to the title at the US Open this time was the crowd was wholly behind him. As the once unpopular competitor marched on, forgotten were the past insults and US border control rules regarding the unvaccinated that kept him out last year. The few doubters who saw the signs of an era ending and another beginning after Wimbledon stood to applaud the indefatigable champion who, with a racquet in hand, has an answer to almost anything that his opponents fire back at him on a tennis court.
To think he won his 24 titles in a fiercely competitive era featuring the champion of dulcet strokes in Roger Federer and a Djokovic-like unrelenting returner of a tennis ball in Rafael Nadal. At 36, he is no spring chicken, thus forcing Medvedev to ask, "What are you still doing here!" after a 104-minute second set in which the heat of the US Open had seemed to melt even Djokovic. He took fatigue in his stride to emerge a straight-sets winner and lent his victory a poignancy by wearing a white jacket with the number 24 on his back, as a tribute also to his dear departed friend and NBA star shooter, Kobe Bryant.
If all the talk was once again about a 36-year-old member of the 3 musketeers of tennis after the defending champion Alcaraz had lost in the semi-final to Medvedev, the US Open also saw youth on the distaff side break down the doors after the retirement last year of Serena Williams. In Coco Gauf, the youngest women’s champion since Serena, there is a great champion in the making, a feisty new age player who has the skills and the temperament to play consistently at this level. She also showed maturity enough in asking her voluble coach to quieten down with his instructions as she worked things out on the court on her own.