As rivalry brews, Djokovic runs out of steam

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. -- Novak Djokovic was the first to come off the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Tennis bag slung over his shoulder, a slight limp in his tired gait and both knees skinned from scrapping for every point he could on the hard court.

From U.S. Open defending champion to runner-up in a matter of minutes.

"Today it was just not meant to be," Djokovic said. "We played almost five hours. A lot of running, a lot of rallies. I think that says enough about the effort we both put out, physical, mental effort. This time I didn't win the match, and that's sport."

His coach, Marian Vajda, said out loud what Djokovic absolutely wouldn't. The Serb and No. 2 seed had played for three straight days as rain and a tornado warning made a mockery of the schedule. On Saturday, he played nearly a full set of a semifinal against David Ferrer. On Sunday at 11 a.m., he played another three. Meanwhile, Murray had been resting since Saturday afternoon.

"Coming there again, I think this rule should be changed immediately," Vajda said. "Two days is not possible to play, nobody plays five sets and five sets, and it's not possible. It's impossible to hold the final this way. I am totally against two-day format, semifinal and final."

There are discussions under way to ensure a day of rest between the semifinal and final for both the men's and women's tours.

After the loss, Djokovic didn't blame his tired legs or a match so long it tied the longest men's final in U.S. Open history.

"It's a Grand Slam final, and you both want to win," Djokovic said. "We both wanted this trophy; we were very hungry for it."

Djokovic did win a similar match to start the season, in an Australian Open semifinal. Another long, grueling match. Djokovic got the better of Murray that day and went on to win the tournament.

Ivan Lendl, the former great Murray then hired as his coach, said that was the match that turned Murray from an also-ran to a contender and gave him the confidence to realize he could expand the number of men at the top tier of the men's game.

"Are they the next two?" former player Mats Wilander said. "Yes, I would think so. I don't think [Roger] Federer or [Rafael] Nadal are finished by any means, but on hard court, it's these two."

Vajda said Murray and Djokovic were well matched on court, and that it would always be a good game.

"They know each other since when they were juniors; they know each other perfectly," Vajda siad. "It's nice to watch the game. The tennis seems really good, lots of rallies, they are similar."

Djokovic owns a slight edge in the record even as Murray accepted the U.S. Open trophy.

"I think already is, it's 8-7 whereas the others [rivalries] are a bit one-sided," Wilander said. "This one has never been one-sided. It's always been back and forth. They just haven't played in enough big matches. Now they will."

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