New York, Sep 10 (AP/UNB)— The U.S. Open final suddenly appeared to be slipping away from Novak Djokovic. He dropped three consecutive games. He was barking at himself, at his entourage, at a crowd vocally supporting his opponent, Juan Martin del Potro. He was, in short, out of sorts.
And then came Sunday's pivotal game, a 20-minute, 22-point epic. Three times, del Potro was a point from breaking and earning the right to serve to make it a set apiece. Three times, Djokovic steeled himself. Eventually, he seized that game — and del Potro's best chance to make a match of it.
A year after missing the U.S. Open because of an injured right elbow that would require surgery, Djokovic showed that he is unquestionably back at his best and back at the top of tennis. His returns and defense-to-offense skills as impeccable as ever, Djokovic collected his 14th Grand Slam title and second in a row by getting through every crucial moment for a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory over 2009 champion del Potro at Flushing Meadows.
"There was always part of me that imagined and believed and hoped that I can get back (to) the desired level of tennis very soon," said Djokovic, whose operation was in February. "But at the same time, life showed me that it takes time for good things, it takes time to really build them, for things to fall into place, so you can center yourself, balance yourself and thrive. The last two months have been terrific."
This was Djokovic's third championship in New York, along with those in 2011 and 2015. Add in the trophies he has earned at six Australian Opens, one French Open and four Wimbledons, most recently in July, and the 31-year-old Serb pulled even with Pete Sampras for the third-most majors among men, trailing only Roger Federer's 20 and Rafael Nadal's 17.
""He's my idol. Pete, I love you," Djokovic said.
Federer lost in the fourth round in New York, while Nadal retired from his semifinal against del Potro because of a bad right knee. That put the 29-year-old Argentine back in a Grand Slam final for the first time since his breakthrough nine years ago, a comeback for a guy who had four wrist operations in the interim.
"I believe he'll be here again with the champion's trophy. I really do," said Djokovic, who gave his pal a hug at the net, and then went over to console del Potro as he wiped away tears at his sideline seat.
Del Potro spoke this week about the low point, in 2015, when he considered quitting the sport. But supported by a dozen or so friends from back home, whose "Ole!" choruses rang around the arena, he climbed up the rankings to a career-high No. 3 by thundering his 100 mph (160 kph) forehands and 135 mph (215 kph) serves.
Those produce free points against so many foes. Not against Djokovic, who always seemed to have all the answers — and who said he convinced himself that all of those "Oles" were actually people calling out his own nickname, "Nole."
Djokovic was better than del Potro on their many lengthy exchanges, using his trademark body-twisting, limb-splaying court coverage to get to nearly every ball, sneakers squeaking around the blue court in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the roof was closed because of rain.
"I was playing almost at the limit, all the time, looking for winners with my forehands, backhands, and I couldn't make it," del Potro said, "because Novak (was) there every time."
Never was that more apparent than the game that stood out on this evening, with Djokovic serving while down 4-3 in the second set. They went back and forth, through eight deuces and all those break opportunities for del Potro, until he slapped one forehand into the net, and another sailed wide.
Those were high-risk shots, but, as del Potro put it: "It's the only way to beat these kind of players."
Djokovic's coach, Marian Vajda, called that moment the match's "turning point, obviously."
When it ended, with Djokovic holding to 4-all, spectators began leaving their seats, perhaps thinking it was time for a changeover, even though it wasn't. That prompted to chair umpire Alison Hughes to chastise them.
It was a brief request, though, unlike her many other pleas for quiet, mainly as fans were shouting and chanting and clapping in support of del Potro. It all bothered Djokovic, who started yelling and gesturing toward the seats. At one moment, he pressed his right index finger to his lips, as if to say, "Shhhhhhh!" Later, after winning a point, Djokovic put that finger to his ear, as if to say, "Who are you cheering for now?!"
The tiebreaker was resolved thanks to more del Potro miscues on his forehand side, as he looked more and more fatigued. He made one last stand by breaking and holding for 3-all. But that was that.
When it ended, thanks to a three-game closing run by Djokovic, he flung his racket away and landed on his back, arms and legs spread wide.
He had hit his peak, Vajda said, at "just at the right time."
Djokovic had never gone through an extended absence until 2017, when he sat out the second half of the season because of elbow pain that had plagued him for more than a year. He tried to return at the start of this season, but couldn't, and opted for surgery.
It took him some time to find the right form, as evidenced by his quarterfinal loss at the French Open to a guy who was ranked 72nd and had never won a Grand Slam match until that tournament.
"I was very, very disappointed with my performance that day," Djokovic recalled Sunday, explaining that he went hiking in the mountains in France to clear his head after that setback.
Djokovic then got right back to work, and announced that he was, once more, himself by winning Wimbledon.
Now he's backed that up at the U.S. Open, the fourth time in his career he won multiple majors in a season.
"Difficult times, but you learn through adversity," Djokovic said. "I try to take the best out of myself in those moments."
Dhaka, Sept 09 (UNB) – Bangladesh Ansar emerged the champions of the 25th National Karate Championship securing eight gold, two silver and five bronze medals that concluded at the Shaheed Suhrawardy National Indoor Stadium in Mirpur on Saturday.
Bangladesh Army finished close runners-up collecting eight gold, two silver and three bronze medals while Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) was placed distant 3rd with one gold, one silver and three bronzes.
Chairman of the Chattogram Hill Tracts Development Board Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura distributed the prizes among the winners as the chief guest in the closing ceremony.
President of the Bangladesh Karate Federation and Commissioner of Anti-corruption Commission Dr M Mozammel Haque Khan presided over the function.
New York, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — Naomi Osaka walked to the net, the excitement of being a Grand Slam champion mixed with a bit of sadness.
She grew up rooting for Serena Williams, even did a report on her way back in third grade. Her dream was to play her idol at the U.S. Open.
So when she had actually done it, beating Williams 6-2, 6-4 on Saturday night to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from Japan, why was it so difficult?
"Because I know that, like, she really wanted to have the 24th Grand Slam, right?" Osaka said. "Everyone knows this. It's on the commercials, it's everywhere.
"When I step onto the court, I feel like a different person, right? I'm not a Serena fan. I'm just a tennis player playing another tennis player. But then when I hugged her at the net ... I felt like a little kid again."
Osaka teared up as she was finishing her answer, still overwhelmed as she juggled the idea of her winning and Williams losing.
Though her nerves on the tennis court don't show it, it was a reminder of just how youthful the 20-year-old Osaka is. Not since Maria Sharapova was 19 in 2006 has the U.S. Open had a younger women's champion.
The way Williams lost, of course, was what stood out most in the match. The arguments with chair umpire Carlos Ramos and the three code violations — one that gave Osaka a game for a 5-3 lead in the second set when Williams was trying to rally — will be what was most remembered.
But not for Osaka, who claimed to not even hear the interactions between Williams and Ramos. What will stay with her is the hug at the net afterward, and Williams' kind words during the trophy presentation, when she asked a booing crowd to focus its intention on Osaka's moment.
"So for me, I'm always going to remember the Serena that I love," Osaka said. "It doesn't change anything for me. She was really nice to me, like, at the net and on the podium. I don't really see what would change."
Osaka was nervous Saturday, making a few phone calls to her sister in Paris to calm her down. Even during the match, whenever she was faced with a tough spot, she kept telling herself to try to do what Williams would do.
Williams was certainly impressed.
"She was so focused," the 36-year-old Williams said. "I think, you know, whenever I had a break point, she came up with some great serve. Honestly, there's a lot I can learn from her from this match. I hope to learn a lot from that."
It was that way throughout the tournament for Osaka, who won the second title of her career. She was mostly dominant, dropping only one set in her seven matches, and she saved 5 of 6 break points against Williams after erasing all 13 in the semifinals against Madison Keys.
That's the kind of toughness Williams has so often shown in winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one shy of the record. It's one of the things Osaka always admired about Williams, made her choose her as the topic of that report years ago.
"I colored it and everything," Osaka said. "I said, 'I want to be like her.'"
On Saturday, she was better.
New York, Sep 9 (AP/UNB) — The events and the arguing and the booing that would make this a U.S. Open final unlike any other began when Serena Williams' coach made what she insisted was an innocent thumbs-up, but the chair umpire interpreted as a helpful signal.
It was the second game of the second set Saturday, in a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Williams' bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title already was in real trouble because she was being outplayed by first-time major finalist Naomi Osaka.
Chair umpire Carlos Ramos warned Williams for getting coaching during a match, which isn't allowed. She briefly disputed that ruling, saying cheating "is the one thing I've never done, ever." A few games later, Williams received another warning, this time for smashing her racket, and that second violation cost her a point, drawing more arguing. Eventually, Willams called Ramos "a thief," drawing a third violation — and costing her a game.
"I have never cheated in my life!" Williams told Ramos. "You owe me an apology."
Soon, Osaka was finishing off a 6-2, 6-4 victory that made her the first player from Japan to win a Grand Slam singles title. That is not, however, what will be remembered about this match.
With jeers bouncing off the arena's closed roof, both players — the champion, Osaka, and the runner-up, Williams — wiped away tears during a trophy ceremony that was awkward for everyone involved.
Williams whispered something to Osaka and wrapped an arm around her shoulders.
"I felt, at one point, bad, because I'm crying and she's crying. You know, she just won. I'm not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears, because of the moment. I felt like, 'Wow, this isn't how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam.' I was like, 'Wow, I definitely don't want her to feel like that,'" said Williams, who missed last year's U.S. Open because her daughter, Olympia, was born during the tournament. "Maybe it was the mom in me that was like, 'Listen, we've got to pull ourselves together here.'"
This was the only the latest in a series of high-profile conflicts with match officials for Williams at Flushing Meadows. It all dates back to 2004, when an incorrect call during a quarterfinal loss to Jennifer Capriati was cited as the main reason for the introduction of replay technology in tennis. Then came Williams' infamous tirade after a foot fault in the 2009 semifinals against Kim Clijsters, and a to-do over a hindrance call in the 2011 final against Sam Stosur.
"It's always something," Williams said.
Osaka is just 20, 16 years younger than Williams — and grew up idolizing the American, even asking her to pose for a selfie together at a tournament just a handful of years ago. Their age difference was the second-widest gap between women's finalists at a Slam in the professional era.
"I know that everyone was cheering for her," Osaka told the crowd, "and I'm sorry it had to end like this."
What was most problematic for Williams on the scoreboard was that she was unable to keep up with a version of herself. Osaka, who happens to be coached by Williams' former hitting partner, hit more aces, 6-3. Osaka hit the match's fastest serve, 119 mph. She had fewer errors, 21-14. She saved five of six break points. And she covered the court better than Williams did.
"She made a lot of shots," Williams said. "She was so focused."
Indeed, that was what might have been most impressive. Osaka never let Williams' back-and-forth with Ramos distract her, never wavered from playing terrific tennis. The one time Osaka did get broken, to trail 3-1 in the second set, she broke back immediately, prompting Williams to smash her racket.
That cost her a point, because of the earlier warning for coaching. Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, acknowledged afterward that he did try to signal Williams, but didn't think she had seen him — and added that he thinks every player gets coaching during matches.
"I never had any warning in my career for coaching. Strange to do that in a Grand Slam final," Mouratoglou said. "Second, we all know that all the coaches coach at every match, all year long, from the first of January all the way to the 31st of December. We all know it."
When Ramos called both players over to explain the game penalty, which put Osaka ahead 5-3, Williams began laughing, saying: "Are you kidding me?" Then she asked to speak to tournament referee Brian Earley, who walked onto the court along with a Grand Slam supervisor. Williams told them the whole episode "is not fair," and said: "This has happened to me too many times."
"To lose a game for saying that is not fair," Williams said. "There's a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they are men, that doesn't happen."
It was the second Grand Slam final defeat in a row for Williams, after Wimbledon in July. She's appeared in only seven tournaments this season since returning to the tour after having a baby during last year's U.S. Open.
Williams asked what she'll tell her daughter, Olympia, about what happened Saturday.
"I'll tell her, first of all, if she sees it, that, you know, I stood up for what I believed in. I stood up for what was right," Williams replied. "Sometimes, things in life don't happen the way we want them, but always stay gracious and stay humble. I think that's the lesson we can all learn from this."
New York, Sep 6 (AP/UNB)— A quick look at the U.S. Open:
LOOKAHEAD TO THURSDAY
For as much as she's done, and as long as she's been around, Serena Williams figures that, with her 37th birthday approaching in a few weeks, she won't have chances to contend for Grand Slam titles forever. "I don't have 10 more years. At least, I don't think so," she said, then added with a knowing smile: "I said that 10 years ago." She will attempt to reach her ninth U.S. Open final — but first since winning the title in 2014 — when she faces No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the semifinals at night. Williams has lost her past two semifinals at Flushing Meadows, in 2015 against Roberta Vinci and in 2016 against Karolina Pliskova. The American is bidding for a seventh U.S. Open championship and 24th Grand Slam singles trophy overall, which would tie Margaret Court for the most in tennis history (Williams already owns the record for the most in the professional era). Sevastova, meanwhile, will be participating in her first semifinal at any major tournament. She has never faced Williams. The night's second semifinal will be No. 14 Madison Keys of the U.S. against No. 20 Naomi Osaka of Japan. Keys has won all three previous head-to-head matchups, including when she came back from a 5-1 deficit in the third set at the U.S. Open two years ago and a straight-set victory at the French Open this year.
Chance of rain. High of 92 degrees.
Sunny. High of 90 degrees.
WEDNESDAY'S SINGLES RESULTS
Men's quarterfinals: No. 6 Novak Djokovic beat John Millman 6-3, 6-4, 6-3; No. 21 Kei Nishikori beat No. 7 Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4.
Women's quarterfinals: No. 14 Madison Keys beat No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-3; No. 20 Naomi Osaka beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1.
STAT OF THE DAY
Zero — Times that Japanese players reached the men's and women's singles semifinals at the same Grand Slam tournament until Wednesday, when Nishikori and Osaka did it.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"What I really love about Naomi is that, like, she really preserved that innocence, somehow. So if she's sad, she's going to show it. If she's happy, she's going to show it. There is no fake emotions." — Sascha Bajin, Osaka's coach.