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No clap there, dang! Not such a reliable person as Novak Djokovic was again exposed on Thursday, this time in the moment of truth.
The tears were gone long ago, but this week was a traumatic one for one of tennis’s biggest players. Everything that can go wrong – the cold, the break of service, the alerting of the German crowd – went wrong for him in the second set of his opening match against Roberto Bautista Agut on Wednesday night. Even Djokovic admitted as much. It was the effect of an old stiff back. He reacted furiously and conceded a point at that first break.
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It was then that he did something bordering on confession.
“It was tough out there with some pain and you can sense when you feel better, obviously, things change,” he told the audience.
Bautista Agut, after converting his first of two match points at 6-5, left court some eight minutes later, to a standing ovation, heartily cheered by the crowd, only to be reunited on court with Nadal, his former practice partner.
And not before Djokovic twice chance to break back. The Spaniard did not break for 7-5 and 9-8, or for 11-12 for the second set. But Djokovic lost the opening set 7-6 and it was now an even harder-fought battle.
After twice failing to close out the second set at 4-5 and 6-6, Djokovic opted for a lighter activity. He knocked his head against his racket. He fell on the ground. Then, I believe he started to cry.
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It was then that Nadal stood up with his own tears. It was perhaps not the most peaceful – but surely it was the right thing to do.
We do know now how he reacted. Nadal jumped to his feet, sniffed the air and beckoned for his box to join him.
After pantomime wrestling to cheers from those in the stands, Djokovic was finally handed a lead for the third set, a 14-point game. In the fourth set, Nadal had a much harder time returning the break. The Spaniard, after going a break down, took the set 6-1.
It was over in 67 minutes. Djokovic was sent back into January. The Spaniard closed out a second career US Open title – and his 14th major – with a dead-on-the-serve 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 victory.