Novak Djokovic's prayers answered
NEW YORK -- The wind was the enemy this gusty fortnight at the National Tennis Center. There had been only one brief rain delay, back in Week 1.
But Sunday, with a narrow (but fierce) ribbon of clouds sending down a gray drizzle, just past 6 p.m., the USTA pulled the plug on the men's final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. For the third year in a row, we'll have a Monday final, at 4 p.m ET.
In the players' lounge under Arthur Ashe Stadium, just after the announcement, Djokovic exulted and hugged members of his camp. Nadal scowled and seemed genuinely unhappy. As he was packing up his rackets, he was asked about the decision.
"I can't believe they didn't wait until 8 or 9 o'clock," Nadal said.
After beating Roger Federer in a grinding five-set match Saturday, in a mystical moment, Djokovic wearily looked toward the sky.
Maybe he knew something.
Afterward, he was told that rain might be in the forecast.
"Oh," said Djokovic in a way that suggested he hadn't been aware.
Did he think it would help him?
"Really? Djokovic continued. "I don't know the rituals how to invite the rain, but yeah, I don't know. An extra day would be great, actually."
And that's just what he got. This, of course, changes everything.
Because Djokovic's match ended more than four hours after Nadal's defeat of Mikhail Youzhny. And, because Nadal was on the court for 90 minutes less than Djokovic, most people's take was: Advantage, Rafa.
"It's a matter of can he make it," Federer said Saturday, "and chances are good now, especially that Novak is so tired and Rafa has been playing so well."
Now, the view has changed. Maybe Djokovic has a chance.
Djokovic, who had expected to go on the court some 22 hours after one of his greatest victories, got a massive reprieve. After a feverish attempt to recover, Djokovic could go back to the place he's staying in New Jersey and genuinely relax another 20-plus hours -- house money in so many respects.
And so, Nadal's quest for a career Grand Slam was deferred for at least another day. Which, again, might work in Djokovic's favor. With all that history in play, even more pressure falls on Nadal. He also is trying to win three majors in a row in the same calendar year, something that hasn't been done in 41 years, when Rod Laver won all four.
"It's great for tennis, and it's great for him at the young age he is to have that opportunity already," Federer said Saturday night. "It doesn't really matter if he's younger or not. But it's exciting for tennis that we're doing something very special in tennis at the same time. Yeah, I won't watch, but I hope he wins."
Coming into the final, Nadal and Federer have won 20 of the past 22 majors -- only Djokovic (2008 Australian Open) and Juan Martin del Potro (2009 U.S. Open) have managed to crack the code.
After his semifinals victory, Djokovic was asked about the difficulty of coexisting with Nadal and Federer.
"Yeah, well, it's normal," Djokovic said. "There are two best players in the world at this moment. They are the two most dominant players in last five, six years, so it's logical that people talk about them. For me, I don't think I've done bad last three or four years. I don't think I've done bad with my achievements. But I am not kind of disappointed that people are not talking about me more.
"It's just waiting for my moment to come. I mean, I'm competing in an era of two great greats, two players winning most of the majors. It's not easy, if you know what I mean."
Still, a whole lot easier with an extra day off.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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