NEW YORK • Common consensus has it that male tennis is currently going through its most golden era.
And, after Novak Djokovic took his collection of Grand Slam titles into double figures by beating Roger Federer to win the US Open on Sunday, it is increasingly conceivable the 28-year-old Serb could become the greatest player of them all.
Djokovic, already the 2015 champion of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, proved too skilled, proficient and resilient for Federer in the second Grand Slam final in succession. He won 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in 3hr 20min after a rain delay of more than three hours.
For a while, it seemed as though he would reprise his triumphant march to victory at the All England Club just 10 weeks ago. Then, he wore Federer down and effectively steamrollered the owner of 17 Grand Slam titles in a fourth set.
However, Federer is a man driven by pride and a determination to show that, at the age of 34, he can still joust with the game's younger generation.
Federer had not dropped a set in the entire tournament but Djokovic wiped out that distinction in 42 minutes.
Out of the 23 break points held by Federer, Djokovic saved 19.
Federer and Djokovic have played 42 times, and Djokovic's victory on Sunday tied the series at 21-21.
Fighting back from the brink at 2-5 down, he ensured that Djokovic had to win one last battle before claiming the US$3.3 million (S$4.6 million) prize cheque.
Federer obstinately pulled back one break of serve but another was too much to ask. Djokovic finally celebrated victory after his rival's forehand return flew long.
"Roger is always a guy that is going to take the best out of you," said the world No. 1.
"Serving at 5-2 down, Roger showed why he's a champion and I was very fortunate to come up with some big serves in the last game.
"Then, I felt a huge sense of relief when I saw that last return out.
"It has been an incredible season for me."
Djokovic also captured three of the four Grand Slam titles in 2011.
But this was only his second US Open triumph after losing in the final four times, including the 2007 edition against Federer.
The Serb's triumph means the pair are now level with 21 wins apiece in their history of encounters that dates back almost 10 years.
And Federer was forced to admit: "It has been a good rivalry, but maybe not tonight. We walk away from it knowing more about our games and more about ourselves."
The vast majority of the 22,500-strong crowd were fiercely supportive of the Swiss - to the extent that they vociferously celebrated Djokovic's errors.
At times, it appeared that the alienation was getting through to the Serb. But his poise in the closing stages, even when Federer threatened to pull himself back in contention, was a considerable factor in his ultimate superiority.
"I can't sit here and criticise the crowd," said Djokovic.
"On the contrary, I think it's logical to expect that a great player and a champion like Roger has the majority of the support anywhere I play him.
"He absolutely deserves to have the support he does because of all the years and success that he had and the way he carries himself on and off the court."
While Federer reached exalted status with his collection of an all-time record 17 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic is now the player dominating the men's game.
He had won nine Slams in the last five years and held the No. 1 ranking in four of the past five seasons.
He appreciates this Grand Slam treble even more than his 2011 breakthrough.
"I'm a different player, a different person today than I was in 2011," he said. "As a father and a husband, experiencing a different variety of things in my life, it's a completely different approach to tennis today.
"I feel more fulfilled. I feel more complete as a player today than I was in 2011."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS