NEW YORK -- After driving an overhead past his opponent on match point, Novak Djokovic dropped his racket and collapsed onto his back. As the crowd roared and the words "2018 US Open Champion" sparkled in gold lettering above him, he lay motionless on the court, his eyes closed and his arms stretched over his head. It had taken Djokovic 3 hours and 15 minutes and masterful tennis to defeat No. 3 Juan Martin del Potro and earn his 14th Grand Slam title, tying Pete Sampras for third on the all-time list. Djokovic wanted the moment to last.
Finally, he stood, walked to the net and embraced an emotional Del Potro, a good friend and the overwhelming crowd favorite all tournament. But a funny thing happened when Djokovic turned toward the crowd and raised his racket skyward in celebration. Even the infamous Del Potro Dozen -- the members of the Argentine's rambunctious cheerleading squad from his hometown of Tandil -- cheered and hollered in recognition of Djokovic's accomplishment.
"His fans were very respectful to me and created a great atmosphere. It was electrifying," Djoker said after the match. "They never went over the line. That was truly amazing tonight."
This was the kind of ending Naomi Osaka deserved, too.
In Saturday night's women's final, Osaka played as dominant a match as Djokovic had, and after defeating Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4, she should have wanted to explode in celebration, having just won her first Grand Slam title in her first appearance in a major final. She should have felt love and respect from the crowd, despite the way the match unfolded. She should not have felt compelled, as she did, to apologize to the crowd for winning the match.
Djokovic, despite being one of the greatest players in the history of the game, has never been its most popular or felt el gran amor Del Potro devotees display for their 6-foot-6 national monument. But after the match, he turned toward each of the four corners of Arthur Ashe Stadium and extended his arms toward the crowd, asking the New York fans to accept him, to love him, to give to him as much as he had given to them all tournament. And they responded in kind, their chants crashing down onto center court like a breaking wave.
It's too bad the crowd couldn't do the same for Osaka, in a match that became too much about a chair umpire and a controversy, and too little about Osaka's win. Instead of being remembered as the day a Japanese woman first won a Grand Slam title, Saturday will live in infamy as that crazy 2018 women's US Open final.
"Everyone was in a very awkward situation yesterday, a lot of emotions. Serena was crying. Naomi was crying. It was really, really tough," Djokovic said. "I have my personal opinion that maybe the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit, especially in a Grand Slam final. He did change the course of the match. As Serena said yesterday in the closing ceremonies, Osaka deserved to have her moment."
Instead, the women's final ended in tears of sadness and confusion, of frustration and feeling shortchanged. Instead of cheers, Osaka walked to the trophy celebration amid a chorus of boos. After the men's final, there were tears as well. Del Potro was heartbroken thinking about all he'd been through since winning his only major here in 2009, how far he'd come since a string of wrist injuries derailed his career and how close he'd come to capturing a second Slam.
But his were tears of competition, of grit and fight, of missed opportunities and coming up short. And they were stemmed by the love of fans who didn't care whether he won.
Top moments from the men's US Open final
Check out the top 3 plays from Novak Djokovic's win over Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open Championship as captured on the AI IBM Highlight.
"You can lose or win a trophy, but the love from the crowd, it could be even bigger than the tournament," Del Potro said in his postmatch news conference. "It will be in the heart for the rest of the life."
And those were the words of the runner-up.