Later today, the 20-year-old Novak Djokovic will become the third youngest man to ever play in a U.S. Open Final. The only ones younger were Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg.
“I don’t want to go out tomorrow and try to do my best or try to perform well,” Djokovic said yesterday. “No, I’ll go tomorrow to try to win.”
His obstacle is Roger Federer, the 11-time Grand Slam Champion who is vying for his fourth consecutive U.S. Open Title — a modern day record.
Djokovic has been waiting for this match for weeks.
On Aug. 21, I spoke to Djokovic on the phone while he was in his hotel room at the Barclay on Lexington Avenue. We were talking about the secret to defeating Roger Federer, who he beat in Montreal earlier this summer.
“With Roger, you just have to stay with him and keep it up, play every point and not lose your mind,” he said. “You have to just stay right there. It’s difficult. Again, we are talking about one of the best players in the history of the tennis. It’s very hard to win against him on any surface, but you got to stay with him. If you’re nervous, he’ll use his biggest weapons and break you. You try to put some pressure on him.
“If you stay with him,” he continued, “you get your chances.”
Federer has no weaknesses, but if there’s one opening, it’s his backhand, and Djokovic assaulted it in their last meeting.
“You have to try to do something tactic-wise to try to break him,” he said. “He has great spin, but you know the thing with his backhand is he can hurt you much more with his forehand, it’s his big strength. But again, he can create a lot of good opportunities for the winner with the forehand from his backhand slice.”
In his final against Federer, he won two tie-breaks by a shockingly lopsided score of 14-4.
“The top players, they all have good groundstrokes and volleys, it’s just a matter of mental strength at a certain moment,” Djokovic said. “I think I added a lot of confidence in the last couple months, winning in Miami. I got motivated and now it makes me even more comfortable on the court.”
It’s one thing to be comfortable against Federer for three sets in Montreal. Can he do it for five in New York?