Djokovic has won five straight matches against del Potro, the last four of those victories coming in straight sets. He is 15-4 against him over all.
This meeting, their first in a Grand Slam final, turned for good in the second-set tiebreaker, when Djokovic broke a 4-4 deadlock by winning the final three points.
The last point of that tiebreaker was emblematic: Del Potro tried to open up the court with his forehand, but Djokovic read the shot beautifully and counterpunched it crosscourt. Del Potro, who at 6-foot-6 takes time to change direction, reached the ball but hit the running forehand into the net.
It takes great energy and resilience to play Djokovic’s style of tennis, but his eyes were often wide amid the tussle, enjoying the process again after the burnout and injuries that knocked him off the top rung in men’s tennis after he last reached the final here in 2016.
This year, he had surgery to repair a right elbow problem in early February after playing the Australian Open with a sheath on his right arm and an abbreviated service motion.
But the sheath is long gone, along with his slump.
“When I had the surgery on my elbow earlier this year, I could truly understand what Juan Martín was going through with his surgeries,” Djokovic, 31, said in the postmatch awards ceremony on Sunday as del Potro looked on. “But you learn from adversity. You learn when you’re down and when you have doubtful moments, when things are not working out as you want them to. I try to take the best out of myself in those moments and thrive on the support and love I get from close ones to get myself in this position.”
He and those close to him, including his wife, Jelena, were locked in a group embrace in the stands shortly after he closed out the match with an overhead, one of his least reliable shots.
He will be back at No. 3 in the rankings on Monday, and though Nadal will still be No. 1 and Federer No. 2, there is no doubt about which player is atop the heap right here, right now.