They say perseverance is a powerful thing, but even more so, it’s a hard thing to juggle. The line between delusion and determination is a thin one, that most walk unsuccessfully. Oftentimes it’s not just easy, it’s logical to accept a new, lesser state of things – after their various trials, no one would have blamed Juan Martin Del Potro or Novak Djokovic if they’d never made it back to the top, and yet here they are, playing for another Men’s Singles title at the 2018 US Open.
Unfortunately, as far as their perseverance has taken them, only one of them will be able to take a step further. Will it be Djokovic or Del Potro? Read on to find out.
Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)  v Novak Djokovic (SRB) 
For Del Potro, a win would represent the mother of all comebacks. Beating Roger Federer here in 2009 to become a grand slam champion at 20, the Argentine started the 2010’s as the future of the sport, yet has spent most of the decade as one of its sadder stories, with injury robbing him of any real shot to add to his tally. To be back with another chance, nine years later is remarkable in itself, but a win would obliterate the open era record for longest gap between first and second titles (coincidentally, currently held by Djokovic at 1099 days, Del Potro would have 3282) and bookend what has been one of the more unique careers in tennis history.
For Djokovic, a win would cap a year that has been equal parts strange and remarkable. Through June, the Serb was virtually an afterthought, seemingly as far removed from his title-winning form as he’d ever been, and still struggling to adapt in the wake of his 2017 elbow injury. Now he could end it with two major wins on the trot, firmly back in contention for world number one, and with the chase for Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the all-time titles list well-and-truly back on. Talk about a turnaround.
With only a single set against him this tournament, it’s safe to say this has been Del Potro’s best form in a very long time. Of course, he dodged a bullet in his semi with a hobbled Rafa Nadal, but there’s no denying he is striking the ball very cleanly, and his backhand in particular looks as good as it has since his first wrist injury.
Conversely, Djokovic took a bit longer to round into form – dropping a set in each of his first two matches – but now that he’s found it, looks like his usual all-encompassing self. Kei Nishikori simply had no answer for him in their semis, and that bodes very well for his play in the final.
With Djokovic leading the head-to-head 14-4, you might think this is a very one-sided rivalry – in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. One of the best examples of the old boxing adage that “styles make fights”, when Del Potro and Djokovic play, it is always hard-fought and often an outright classic, even if the Serb has won most of them.
So how will things play out here? Certainly Djokovic will like his chances, and there’s no denying the match will be played on his terms, as his ability to nullify the Del Potro serve and limit the amount of “first strike” points is something the Argentine can’t really prohibit. That said, even when not in complete control of the point, Del Potro has a singular ability to take the Serb’s heavy topspin and flatten it out to create winning opportunities – it’s just a question of whether he can completely break down the door before Djokovic sneaks out the window.
Indeed, Djokovic is unlikely to make the first offensive move in most rallies, instead preferring to see if he out-maneuver the Argentine, and that will give Del Potro chances to mount an offensive. However, Del Potro’s lack of (comparative) movement means he really only has one shot in the cannon with which to take complete command of the point — anything less, and the Argentine becomes too exposed to a Djokovic counter, off which he’s sure to make him pay.
In short, Del Potro will certainly have his opportunities, but whether he can capitalize on them often enough is the issue. It goes without saying that he needs to be at his absolute best (which he certainly hasn’t for all of the previous 18 encounters), but if Djokovic is at his own peak it still might not be enough. In any case, the good news is that regardless of the final score, this will be an absolutely cracking slugfest.
Djokovic in four. As dangerous as Del Potro is, and as competitive as this match will be, all signs point to Djokovic. He’ll simply get too many chances on the Del Potro serve not to make them count, and with the rallies played largely on his terms, he’ll be able to give as good as he gets from the baseline. Major number 14 awaits, and with it another leap back closer to the top of the tennis world.