More than two hours after his 4 hour, 44 minute marathon match had ended, Novak Djokovic sat on a bench inside Arthur Ashe waiting to go back to his hotel on Lexington Avenue. He had just finished several rounds of interviews and I asked him how his cramped-up legs felt.
“Exhausted,” he said.
The match he just completed was nothing short of fantastic — high quality tennis with long rallies, impossibly good shots and an electric crowd.
“It was a lot of fun,” Djokovic said. “We had great entertainment and the crowd loved it.”
“Those are the matches we are playing tennis for,” said Radek Stepanek, the loser of the match.
Even though the dramatics were high — Liz Robbins, the sports reporter who covers the U.S. Open for the Times, told me it was among the three best matches she’s ever seen — it was still a second round match that was uncomfortably close for the no. 3 player in the world.
“I am not happy with the way I played,” said Djokovic. “I’m happy with the way I was fighting all the way through and just keeping it up, trying to stay focused. But on the other hand, there are things I didn’t like in my game.”
Particularly his serve, where his first serve percentage was at 60 percent and he only won 49 percent of his second serve points. His coach, Marián Vajda, was standing outside the player’s reception desk when I asked him about the match.
“I didn’t expect a match as close as it was,” said Vajda. “Novak couldn’t find his rhythm. Specifically, his serve. The serve was the key that did not hold him. I wish he could improve on this throughout the tournament.”
But even without his best game, Djokovic did something all champions must: dig a little deeper and find a way to grind it out.
“I have to say that I'm very proud of myself today cause I don't even know how I managed to win cause I was not on the top of my game,” he said.
And when did he finally pull it all together? At exactly the right moment.
“He played his best tennis in the tiebreaker,” said Vajda.
The Argentine prospect Juan-Martin Del Potro is up next in the third round.