Get ready for war of attrition


Djokovic the ultimate fighter

Wilansky By Matt Wilansky

NEW YORK -- Mr. Garber, I'm sure that like any sports romantic you know the Rocky backstory. The one about an aspiring boxer who is trying to make a better life for himself and leave the corrupt streets of Philadelphia. He trains his tail off. He endures scrutiny, hardship and pain before becoming the world champ.

Did it ever occur to you they made this movie with Novak Djokovic in mind? Scoff if you will, but let's check out Exhibit A: His semifinal match against Apollo Creed, er, Stanislas Wawrinka in the US Open semifinals.

In a 4-hour, 9-minute spine chiller, Djokovic weathered everything the spirited Wawrinka could throw at him, including the kitchen sink. But according to script, Djokovic survived and advanced to his fourth straight final here in New York.

This is why he is your No. 1 player in the land. It's not always going to be cartwheels on the court for the Serb, but the bottom line is this: He knows no boundary when it comes to a good fight.

You can throw out the numbers in his upcoming duel with Rafael Nadal. (Djokovic has won four of the past five matchups against the Spaniard on hard courts.) Stats mean virtually nothing. (Since the start of 2011, Djokovic has not lost a major match to Nadal outside of clay.) History is trivial. (Djokovic has reached his seventh straight hard-court Slam final.)

This one is all about heart.

Djokovic was bred to become a multi-Slam winner. From the streets of war-torn Serbia, he didn't have the luxury of country-club training facilities, but his passion and resolve never dithered. Remind you of a certain movie star from the late '70s/early '80s?

Of course, it will take an epic battle against Nadal, who has KO'd every one of his 21 opponents this summer with insulting ease. But Djokovic will not squander this opportunity, not when so much is on the line.

He is perilously close to losing his No. 1 ranking to Nadal, a distinction the Serb relishes. And with another win, Djokovic would tie John McEnroe and Mats Wilander with seven Grand Slam titles. That's pretty sweet company.

Yo, Adrian, I say Djokovic in five.

Rafa rock solid on hard courts

Garber By Greg Garber

NEW YORK -- I'm not going to lie, Mr. Wilansky.

I swam into the overwhelming Rafa tide and picked Novak Djokovic to win this US Open when you solicited experts' picks before the tournament began.

I liked Nadal's draw, but I liked the way Djokovic was battling this season, even without his best stuff, even more. I liked the way he hung in there Saturday against Stanislas Wawrinka, particularly when he went down two sets to one and especially when he lost that epic third game in the fifth set. Djokovic is a gamer, but I wonder whether that effort cost him too much.

Remember that fabulous Wimbledon semifinal this summer where Djokovic barely outlasted Juan Martin del Potro? Certainly, that was a huge factor in Andy Murray's victory at the All England Club. Even with a day off, Djokovic looked hollow and sluggish and, at times, almost disinterested.

Rafa says this has been one of his most emotional seasons, and you can understand why. He missed the Australian Open on the back end of a seven-month sabbatical, then ran off a nice string of clay victories before returning to Paris and winning his eighth French Open.

What could be better than that?

How about getting flamed in the first round at Wimbledon, then coming back to win the three biggest North American hard-court tournaments, in Montreal, Cincinnati -- and now the US Open?

Raise your hand if you saw that coming. Now that is a Rocky-style story to savor.

No one has played better here than Nadal. Hes had his serve broken only once this tournament, and that, historically speaking, means hes going to win. Even Sean Connery, the great James Bond who has been a fixture in the end zone seats at Arthur Ashe, never had a run like this.

This unlooked-for title would give Rafa 13 Grand Slam singles championships. That would make Roger Federer's record of 17 seem quite reachable.

If Djokovic wins, I believe I can guarantee at least a tie for the year-end experts' picks title -- a tie with the tennis editor, of all people. My heart hopes it happens, but my head says Rafa.

It says here: Nadal in four.


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