The final of the US Open was far from over, the 25,703 people at Arthur Ashe Stadium were determined to roar Novak Djokovic about the most terrific comeback in tennis history; more blatant than the 1987 Wimbledon round of 16, when Jimmy Connors (USA) caught up with a 6-1, 6–1-4 deficit against Mikael Pernfors. Djokovic knew, however, with the score of 4: 6, 4: 6, 4: 5 and even though he had made a break before that it was over – and he smiled when he noticed how much the audience cheered him on. He sat in his chair, smiling, he clenched his fist again, buried his face in his towel, and then he cried. Before, really: joy, maybe also a little out of relief that it was over: that the pressure could be released from him.
After 27 victories in Grand Slam games in succession, Djokovic was facing a historic triumph, he could have won all four major tournaments within one year – nobody has achieved that since Rod Laver in 1969. He is also the only one to have won all nine Masters tournaments, and he has been number one in the world for longer than any other player in history. These are the objectively measurable criteria, and perhaps they were always so important to him because in subjective categories he was often classified behind the eternal audience favorites Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who like him have won 20 Grand Slam titles.
In the finale, Djokovic feels the difference between respect and love
At the US Open final in 2015, for example, he was booed and whistled because the New York fans absolutely wanted Federer to be the winner; In the French Open semifinals this year, the few spectators were as loud as when they were full because they wanted to scream serial winner Nadal into the final and not outsider Djokovic. The audience usually sticks to the challenger – unless it’s about Federer or Nadal, and Djokovic has now experienced that: The New Yorkers didn’t want Daniil Medvedev as the winner, but him, the favorite they so often – and often in a very mean way and wise – had reviled.
Djokovic was respected until then; Attempts to distract and boo are ultimately nothing more than an expression of the greatest possible respect. But now he was celebrated by the New Yorkers, and that did something to Djokovic. “I lost the game, but I’m the happiest person in the world. You touched my heart,” he said on the pitch, and later added: “It was something I’ve never felt in my life before. The feeling is as strong as 21 Grand Slam victories. “
He felt the difference between respect and love in this final, and it is entirely possible that at the end of this great career this one defeat will mean more to him than all the triumphs.