After considering skipping the US Open because of injury concerns, Novak Djokovic made it all the way to the final for the sixth time in the past seven years.
He came up short of the title, though, settling for his fifth runner-up showing at Flushing Meadows because, by his own admission, he got tight at key points – and not because of the physical distress he dealt with down the stretch, including bleeding toes that were treated by a trainer.
Most glaring of all during a 6-7 (1-7) 6-4 7-5 6-3 loss to Stan Wawrinka on Sunday was this statistic.
Djokovic, one of the greatest returners of his, or any, generation, converted only three of 17 break chances.
“I lost my nerves in the important moments. He kept his cool. I think that’s what decided the match,” said Djokovic, the No. 1 seed and defending champion.
“I guess sometimes it happens, even though you have the experience and know what to do.
“Just the heat of the moment and importance of the match, I guess, was too strong for me at certain periods of the match. Just if you lose your cool, the match can go away.”
It’s a rather startling admission from someone who owns 12 major titles and a career grand slam, who has spent more than 200 weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, who was the first man to win more $100 million in career prize money in tennis.
And, especially, someone who earlier this season was considered close to unbeatable.
Until losing in the third round at Wimbledon against Sam Querrey, Djokovic had won 30 consecutive grand slam matches, becoming only the third man – and first in nearly 50 years – to win four consecutive major titles.
But Djokovic acknowledged that he became too passive at pivotal segments of the match against No. 3 Wawrinka, who collected the third major trophy of his career and first at Flushing Meadows.
“He was more courageous, because he stepped in and played aggressive,” Djokovic said, “where I was kind of more waiting for things to happen.”