Novak Djokovic overcame an in-form Roger Federer and a hostile home crowd to clinch his 10th Grand Slam title with a four-set victory at the US Open.
Federer has been back to his dazzling best at Flushing Meadows and enjoyed the almost complete backing of the American support, but Djokovic showed his iron-will again to win 6-4 5-7 6-4 6-4.
It means Djokovic has a second US Open title to add to his first in 2011, and he moves just one short of Bjorn Borg in the Open era’s all-time champions list.
After sealing victory in three hours and 20 minutes, Djokovic turned to his box and pointed to his chest before commiserating his beaten opponent at the net.
“It’s quite an incredible evening for me,” Djokovic said.
“You can only give your best and I was trying to do that knowing he would be aggressive and not drop his level.
“He was always going to take the best out of me and I needed to do that to win this trophy.”
Federer had won 28 consecutive sets since losing to Djokovic at the Wimbledon final but, just as he had on Centre Court, the 34-year-old failed to find his best against the world number one and his wait for an 18th major title continues.
His struggles are testament to Djokovic’s skill and it is typical of the Serbian’s quiet but relentless dominance that for all the talk of Federer’s revival and Serena Williams’ calendar grand slam, he ends 2015 by beating the Swiss and eclipsing Williams with three triumphs from four major finals this year.
David Beckham led a pack of celebrities in the crowd, with Robert de Niro, Sean Connery and Robert Redford all in attendance but in the last year without a roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium, rain delayed the start of the match by three hours and it was not until 7.10pm the players finally emerged.
The cooler conditions, creating a slower pace, arguably favoured Djokovic and the top seed exploded out of the blocks, converting his sixth break point within two games to seize the early ascendancy.
A nasty slip, perhaps caused by lingering moisture on the court, left a bloody graze on Djokovic’s right elbow and hand, and his rhythm was momentarily halted as Federer won the next six points to break back and hold.
Djokovic, however, was quickly patched up at the changeover and he recovered both his focus and form to break Federer again and serve out the set.
The Swiss had looked a pale shadow of his recent best but showed signs of life in the second set, releasing his new rush-return – the ‘SABR’ (Sneak Attack By Roger) – on the first point of the Djokovic serve.
Two more SABRs quickly followed but this time Djokovic was alive to the threat, answering each with exquisite lobs that left Federer helpless to respond.
Another psychological battle was developing, however, as the crowd threw all their energy behind Federer and matters came to a head at 5-4 with Djokovic serving to stay in the set.
In a mammoth 14-minute game, Djokovic grew agitated by the hostility, unleashing a raging celebration which ripped a button off his shirt, before grinning, when Federer squandered a second set point by blazing a forehand long.
Federer’s momentum, however, was as fixed as the crowd’s loyalty and when two more set points came his way at 6-5, he capitalised to draw level and prompt the loudest roar of the match.
The crowd caught their breath at the start of the third and so did the players, exchanging early breaks, before Federer cranked up the pressure with two break points at 4-3.
Djokovic refused to give way, however, saving both, and in the very next game he hit Federer with a break of his own before tapping his temple in celebration.
Serving for the set, Djokovic’s resilience came to the fore again as he survived two crucial break points.
The second came with the help of an excellent overrule from chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore, the first female to take charge of a US Open men’s final, as Djokovic served out the set 6-4.
Federer looked defeated as Djokovic broke once, and then again, to take a 5-2 lead but just as the match seemed complete, the Swiss came roaring back.
One break seemed little more than an exercise in salvaging pride but the crowd were given hope at 5-4 as Federer opened up three more break points.
Djokovic was defiant, however, saving each in turn before a Federer forehand flew long to confirm another hard-fought, but undeniably deserved, Serbian triumph.
Federer was magnanimous in defeat before announcing his plans to play at Flushing Meadows next year, which was greeted by one last great roar from the crowd.
“I’m very pleased with where my game’s at, being back in the finals is where you want to be and playing against a great champion like Novak was a massive challenge and I enjoyed it,” he said.
“I love the sport, I’ve got a lot of passion and one last thing, I’ll see you guys next year.”