Rejuvenated Novak Djokovic hungrier than ever
Novak Djokovic sat out last year's US Open to rest an elbow injury that eventually required surgery, but that pain and frustration felt like a distant memory on Friday when the Serb completed his march to today's New York final (10pm SA time) with authority.
Djokovic barely played in the second half of 2017 as his ailing body demanded a lengthy hiatus and the rejuvenated Serb now appears hungrier than ever, intent on making up for lost time by claiming a second grand slam title of the year.
Next up is a mouthwatering clash against Argentine third seed Juan Martin del Potro and should Djokovic bag a third New York crown, he would join 14-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras in third on the all-time list, trailing only Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (17).
Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 champion, will be looking to complete the Wimbledon-US Open double for a third time when he tackles the 2009 winner with a 14th major within touching distance.
And he will start the heavy favourite, boasting a 14-4 record over the Argentine, who will be playing in just his second final at the slams.
While Djokovic can pull level with Sampras on 14 majors, Del Potro's career at the slams has been torpedoed by a series of wrist injuries.
A number of surgeries pushed him to the brink of retirement in 2015 when his world ranking slumped to 581. Now he goes into today's final at a career-high three. "We all felt for his struggles with injuries that kept him away from the tour for two, three years," said the 31-year-old.
"But he was always a top-five player in the eyes I think of everyone," added Djokovic, who has never lost to Del Potro at a slam, winning twice at the US Open in 2007 and 2012, Roland Garros in 2011 and an epic five-set semifinal at Wimbledon in 2013.
But Djokovic will not underestimate the 29-year-old who was two sets to love ahead of Nadal in the semifinals on Friday when the world number one retired with a knee injury. "We have never played in the final of a grand slam and he's playing the tennis of his life, without a doubt, in the last 15 months," said the Serb.
"There was always part of me that believed I could come back relatively quickly to the level of tennis that I once was playing," sixth seed Djokovic told reporters after he completed a 6-3 6-4 6-2 semifinal demolition of Japan's Kei Nishikori.