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Djokovic vs del Potro tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Djokovic looks poised to deliver US Open victory over sentimental favourite del Potro

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 8 Sep 2018
  • Novak Djokovic faces Juan Martin del Potro in the men's final of the 2018 US Open on Sunday
  • Del Potro vs Djokovic is live from New York on Sunday 9 September at 4pm local/9pm BST
Novak Djokovic (Photo by Jaime Lawson/Getty Images for USTA)

Novak Djokovic looks poised to claim a third US Open title despite the sentimental appeal of a full-circle victory for Juan Martin del Potro. 

Incredibly, after nine years and four surgeries, 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro is back in the US Open final – only to face Novak Djokovic, who is on a comeback trail of his own and playing like a man who fully intends to dominate the tennis landscape once again.

One of the things that it was easy to forget about Djokovic, during the barren period in which he struggled with injuries and for motivation between completing the career Grand Slam at the French Open in 2016 and returning to the winners’ circle at Wimbledon a couple of months ago, was how good he is at raising his level as the closing stages of a tournament approach. It was always a capacity – call it a skill or a talent – which spoke volumes about the degree of control over himself, his game, his own level of intensity and ultimately, his opponents. It wasn’t in evidence particularly at Wimbledon, where he didn’t come in as the favourite and where his level rose and fell throughout the tournament.

Djokovic appeared totally in command of his match vs Kei Nishikori  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
But watching him in New York, it’s evident that the ‘old’ Djokovic is back and possibly better than ever where that aspect of his game is concerned. The two-time US Open champion struggled through the early rounds at the US Open, dropping sets to Marton Fucsovics and Tennys Sandgren, and even his quarterfinal win over John Millman was something of a battle, grinding down the Australian and seeming to be battling with himself in the 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory. But against Kei Nishikori in Friday’s semifinals, Djokovic was totally in control.

Undoubtedly the drop in temperature in New York helped, but it’s not the whole story of how dialed in Djokovic was as he produced his best hitting off the ground from the tournament – and by far his best serving. Nishikori usually makes up for his underwhelming serve by superb returning, but the accuracy of Djokovic’s serving – which he varied throughout the match – was extraordinary and although Nishikori played well, cycling through various different game plans, it was never enough to overcome the gulf between the two established by Djokovic’s effective serving.   

‘Maybe if he wasn't Novak, I might have chance to play little better,’ Nishikori said afterwards, which felt like it summed up the situation fairly accurately.

Djokovic also managed his emotions very well during the 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 match, largely calm but letting off steam – with a bout of furious yelling at his box – when he needed to, celebrating and engaging the crowd when he needed to, but generally keeping cool, not battling himself or those around him. It was all very reminiscent of the days when he made winning Grand Slam tournaments (and Masters 1000 Series titles) look positively routine. 

Djokovic’s comeback story is relatively undramatic compared to del Potro’s, but it’s worth remembering that this was the tournament he anticipated being able to give something like his best by, when he reunited with Marian Vajda; Wimbledon was a bit of a surprise. And certainly his campaign so far has resembled very much a man rounding into his best form. It’s all very ominous for Juan Martin del Potro.

The unfortunate sight of Rafael Nadal being forced to retire when trailing by two sets due to his perennial nemesis, knee tendonitis, robbed spectators of being able to rejoice wholeheartedly in del Potro’s triumph in making it back to a Grand Slam final – especially at this tournament, the site of the Argentine’s incredible win in 2009 when he defeated Nadal and Roger Federer back to back to claim the title when just 19. It should have been the first of many; instead, it’s been the highwater mark of a career which has ebbed dramatically. 

It’s almost impossible to avoid sentimentality when contemplating this final, or the contemplation of what might have been had del Potro not suffered such severe tendonitis in both wrists, necessitating two lengthy breaks from competition, multiple surgeries and causing the Argentine to contemplate retirement. But much as we love to talk about del Potro as this beloved fan favourite, the ‘gentle giant’ as which he’s so often described, he hasn’t got back to his final by sentimentality. He was fortunate that Nadal, who beat him in last year’s semifinals, at the French Open and at Wimbledon, wasn’t in shape to play that match, but it’s the past two years of intense effort, painstakingly rebuilding his ranking and, more significantly, his backhand, going up against the top players and more often than not coming up short, which have earned him a career-high ranking of world no. 3 – and he has been brutally, painfully efficient in coming through a good draw, avoiding getting dragged into long contests with potential pitfalls like Borna Coric and Fernando Verdasco, dropping just one set against John Isner. 

Del Potro in action  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Against Nadal, del Potro was very good – not flawless, far from it, dropping serve both times he broke and most egregiously doing so with three consecutive unforced errors when he was serving for the first set, but very good.  

‘I think for someone his height, he's anticipating and moving really well around the court. He's a smart player. He prepares his tactics well. He always relies, of course, on the first big serve and big forehand, one of the biggest forehands ever in the history of this game. Down the line, hit across, any angle. That's the big weapon,’ Djokovic said.

Djokovic himself was very clear on what he had to do to neutralize del Potro’s weapons: Serve well himself, and take del Potro’s legs out from under him from the very beginning of the point with deep returning. 

‘One of the keys of the match will be return, how well can I return, how many returns I can get back in play, but also try to have some depth in that return, and how accurately I can serve myself,’ Djokovic said.

Djokovic certainly knows the formula for victory over del Potro. He’s won 14 of their 18 matches, including all four of their Grand Slam matches. The only time del Potro has beaten Djokovic in the past five years was in the first round of the Rio Olympics, the win which in many ways kickstarted del Potro’s race back to the top 10 – and which represented probably the lowest point of Djokovic’s period of struggle.

Trying to envisage what a win for del Potro might look like is a bit of a difficult task. The only way I could foresee him winning this US Open final is by – well, I don’t want to use the word ‘miracle’, but certainly by an unlikely alchemy of circumstances: A Djokovic who was having an off day on serve and perhaps struggling with the moment, a crowd that was wholeheartedly behind del Potro (they won’t be, despite the presence of del Potro’s vocal Tandil posse), and the Argentine dragging a truly great performance out of himself. It’s not impossible, but I don’t think Djokovic will give del Potro the room or time to find his wings in the way that he can do. The Djokovic that trounced Nishikori is simply too in command of every aspect of his game at the moment to let del Potro become inspired, to give him the time and space to unleash. I think that’s what we’re going to see in this US Open final from Djokovic: A command performance fueled by his respect for del Potro, but a command performance nonetheless.

Djokovic vs del Potro men’s final tennis is live from Flushing Meadows, New York on Sunday at 4pm local/9pm BST

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Djokovic vs del Potro tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Djokovic looks poised to deliver US Open victory over sentimental favourite del Potro

Juan Martin del Potro vs Novak Djokovic live streaming, preview and predictions for the US Open men’s final match on Sunday 9 September 2018: Del Potro’s remarkable journey back to the US Open final looks likely to end in defeat at the hands of in-form Djokovic

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