As a 20-year-old, Novak Djokovic reached his first career Grand Slam final at the US Open in 2007.
Anyone who happened to watch his second-round match against Radek Stepanek couldn’t be too surprised. After all, if he was capable of surviving a battle like that in the early stages, anything else should be a cakewalk.
Even though he went into this match with a 2-0 head-to-head advantage, Djokovic—and anyone else that was a fan of the sport—knew that Stepanek was more than capable of pulling off an upset and would thrive in his role as an underdog.
Charging the net at every opportunity behind accurately placed serves and flat, penetrating groundstrokes, Stepanek took the first set in a tiebreak. Djokovic held steady to take the second, also in a breaker.
It wasn’t until the third set that either player broke serve, with Stepanek striking first and taking it 7-5. The Czech veteran, eight years Djokovic's senior, looked like he’d be able to close it out and knock the No. 3 seed out of the tournament.
However, Djokovic managed to bounce back and take the fourth, 7-5. In the fifth, the two players battled to 6-all, and before the deciding tiebreak, both players took turns reaching out to the completely riveted crowd for that last bit of support.
All through the match, they’d been engaging with the crowd in the stands: with fist pumps, screams, pointing at faces…it was like we all had front-row seats for an epic Grand Slam final.
First, Stepanek cupped his hand to his ear, encouraging the fans to let out their biggest cheers. Djokovic then “raised the roof,” with the crowd responding in earnest.
All that was left was the tennis.
Djokovic blasted through the breaker, taking it 7-2. At the end of the 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (2) win, the young Serbian collapsed to his knees as if he’d won the whole tournament.
The two shared a warm embrace at the net, and the crowd felt nearly as emotional from what we just witnessed.
Djokovic lost the final that year to Roger Federer, but a few months later would win his first Grand Slam title in Australia. Stepanek would continue to entertain the masses throughout a 21-year career that just ended in November.
Now, the two combatants from that Friday morning ten years ago are reuniting once again, this time as coach and pupil. It should be an exciting combination—especially with their history.
Follow Van on Twitter: @Van_Sias