Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA

Bill Simons
New York

Delpoetry: A type of athletic endeavor, or tennis play, that attempts to stir the imagination. The Delpoet does this by carefully choosing and arranging imposing forehands with rhythm and power, especially at crunch time.

Something had to be done. An intervention was needed.

From the outset, the well-hyped US Open had promised to be a grand, glitzy happening. You know ­– 50th anniversary, new roofed stadium, Serena on the cusp of history. The requisite icons – Billie Jean and Chrissie – were in place and all the grand gladiators of this Golden Era were on hand.

No way – don’t dare say the US Open went to hell. It just seemed that way. On day one, the No. 1 seed, Simona Halep, bid farewell. That was just a warm-up. Steamy, hotter then heck conditions turned New York’s gleaming tennis palace into an insufferable oven. Players melted. Federer couldn’t breathe. And a Millman (that would be Aussie John) delivered. All the while we saw a Frenchwoman take off her shirt, an ump with lots of compassion but not much judgement climb down to comfort a disconsolate Nick Kyrgios, and the greatest fighter in our game, Mr. Nadal, say no mas, my knees aren’t working.

What did work was Nadal in his earlier clash with Dominic Thiem. It ended at 2:03 am, but we will long remember that noble battle. In contrast, the women’s final was a chilling dystopian free-fall into chaos. Can anybody be right if everyone is wrong – except Naomi Osaka? But then again, as ESPN’S Chris McKendry said, “Our sport is a little better when there’s a touch of crazy.”

Some British fellow once insisted that, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” Today, 23,000 New Yorkers and hundreds of Argentines in blue wanted some Delpoetic justice – a second US Open championship for Juan Martin del Potro.

Sure, del Potro boasts just one Slam title – he beat Federer here in 2009. He’s never reached the very top, although long ago it was said that he was on a fast track to be No. 1 in the world.

Instead, he traveled the world searching for surgeons who could fix his broken body. The Argentine doesn’t have massive biceps like Rafa. Rather he’s been hobbled by wretched wrists. He doesn’t float dreamily about a tennis court unleashing artistic winners like Federer. His strides are thunderous, his shots are bolts. He’s never studied with a Spanish sage or gazed out in deep-thought wonder at the edge of the Grand Canyon, like Novak Djokovic.

But he’s beloved. Spain’s Alex Corretja said, “We have to be humble. It’s transcendental. We have to suffer, maintain and be quiet.” That sounds like Delpo. When asked about his three prime rivals, he says, “It is so nice seeing them fighting for the history.” Yannick Noah suggested, “Let’s make all this a bit quieter.” Delpo’s forehand explodes like few others, but he exudes quietude, authenticity, and a certain purity of intention.

Ivan Lendl once said that Andre Agassi was just “a haircut and a forehand.” Delpo is a forehand and a soul. Djokovic told IT that Delpo “nurtures the right values in life. He cares about his family. He cares about his friends. He respects everyone. He fights every match from the first to the last point.” And everyone is in awe of his long comeback journey.

The greatest player in Argentine history, Guillermo Vilas, was a poet. Today the tennis world wanted some Delpoetry. Instead, it got the all but flawless workmanship of a master craftsman who again is in ascendance. Once a dominant force in tennis who held all four Slams at once, a couple of seasons ago the Serb fell off a cliff. Boris Becker says he was just burned out. But there were family issues, his team was in turmoil, and he made bad decisions, waiting too long for surgery and then returning too soon.

Off-court he went on deep-search explorations of the spirit. On-court he lost confidence. The gluten-free seeker was suddenly title-free. There was a string of mind-boggling losses. His ranking plummeted to No 18. He confided, “It’s hard to deal with these types of…defeats. I’ll try to continue and see where it takes me.” This spring we wrote, “It would be foolish to give up on this popular champion, who is gifted with sublime talent and has prevailed so many times.”

After a dreadful loss to an Italian wannabe in the French Open quarters, he rushed into a small interview room in a rage. He said he wasn’t even sure he’d show up for Wimbledon. Instead he went off and climbed a mountain in the French Alps with his wife. I asked him what happened there. He replied, “I remember one moment particularly when we climbed that mountain. It was pretty high. We reached the top after three hours.

“We just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation.

“I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me, in a way. It was all positive. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. The rest is history in terms of results….I just felt a whole wave of energy that I was kind of thriving on from that moment onwards.”

“[The mountain was] Mt. St. Victoire. It was an inspiration to many of the famous Renaissance painters…I strongly recommend you climb it. Some great things will happen in your life.”

Soon great things began to happen in Nole’s life. His semifinal Wimbledon win over Nadal was one for the ages. Then he claimed the Wimbledon title, and when he lifted the Cincinnati trophy he became the first player to win all nine Masters titles – incredible. Then he lost just two sets en route to the Open final, where he brought out all he had in his toolkit to win the first set and lead in the second.

We saw the Serb’s speed, his backhand, his grit, his athleticism, his anticipation, his patience and the best-in-tennis-history return of serve on full display, as he gained the first set and a break lead in the second. He made opportunistic charges to the net and showed none of the fierce rants, piercing howls and self-destructive swipes that sometimes visit the Serb’s game. He was calm, but knew well that his friend Delpo, the No. 3 player in the world, would certainly counterattack.

As Meryl Streep looked on, Djokovic seemed to strip Delpo of any hope. But then Juan seemed to find a magic wand. Suddenly, the Gentle Giant didn’t seem so gentle. His serve picked up, his forehand crackled, and when Novak shanked a forehand into the alley, the suddenly energized Delpo broke back to even the second set 3-3. “Maybe we will have a match after all,” said John McEnroe. One wondered, is this Buenos Aires or Flushing Meadows?

Then in the eighth game of the second set came the showdown, a mano a mano confrontation in a 20-minute game. Del Potro hoped to break and to go up 5-3. Novak was now even missing his money shot, his backhand. Three times Delpo had break points. The Stadium that had endured angry boos the night before now was filled with the greatest chant in our game: “Olé, olé, olé, olé – Delpo, Delpo.”

But the ever-imaginative Djokovic, whose nickname is Nole, convinced himself they were shouting “Nole, Nole, Nole.” Ultimately, Nole said, “No way.” The tension high, the pressure on, Djokovic held his ground. Time and again he absorbed the big man’s power or ran him to far corners and forced errors. Is it, some wondered, better in tennis to be a 6’2” speedster then a 6’6” power-hitter? Today the faster man won the key game, then took the second set tiebreak to prevail in a 1:35 set. From there he disposed of the tiring Argentine as he scored a 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3 win. Djokovic claimed his third huge title in eight weeks, his third US Open, and his fourteenth Slam to match his idol Pete Sampras.

Djokovic may never be as beloved as his superstar rivals Roger and Rafa. But he is a real threat to their Slam totals of 20 and 18. Unlike Novak’s 5:14 Wimbledon triumph over Rafa in July, tonight’s action was not riveting. The win by the Serb, who was reared on the poetry of Alexander Pushkin, was hardly an historic triumph that our grandchildren will dissect. But there were ample competitive moments and, it goes without saying, plenty of Delpoetry in motion. Most of all, in this remarkable US Open that was hot and hectic, chaotic and bizarre, Nole’s masterful win was just what the poet ordered: a fitting conclusion to a tumultuous tournament of jeers, fears, and tears.

Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here