NEW YORK (AP) — Novak Djokovic had his chances — namely, three break points toward the end of the third set, any of which would have given him control of what was shaping up as a close-as-can-be U.S. Open final.
When he lost them all, any hope of lifting the trophy in New York slipped away as fast as a Rafael Nadal forehand.
Djokovic fell to Nadal 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday and, instead of winning his seventh major title, finished as runner-up for the sixth time.
"I didn't do anything, I felt, wrong in those few points," Djokovic said. "He didn't make a mistake. He served well. He came to net. All the credit to him. I had my momentum from midway second set to end of the third. I was supposed to use and realize the opportunities that were presented to me, and I didn't do it."
After a slow start, Djokovic took control of the match in the second set, breaking Nadal not once, but twice, and showing that, yes, there was someone out there who could handle the serve of a man who had lost it only one time in 82 games coming into the final.
That, by itself, made Djokovic a good bet to win the title once the match was knotted at one set apiece. And when he went ahead 40-0 on Nadal's serve at 4-all in the third — even sending Nadal tumbling to the ground on the second point when the Spaniard lost his footing — it looked like this might be Djokovic's big chance.
The points played out like this:
—Nadal with an inside-out forehand winner hit while falling backward. Djokovic applauded the shot as he watched it whip by.
—Djokovic netting a forehand — one of 53 unforced errors he made on the night — to close a 22-shot rally.
—Nadal with a 125-mph ace down the middle, his first and only ace of the match.
"It's not a strategy to play break points," Nadal said. "It's a feeling of that moment. It's a little bit of intuition of the situation, and (the goal) is play with right determination and choose the right option."