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Medvedev’s Straight Set Win in the U.S. Open Final Stops Djokovic Short of a Grand Slam

Daniil Medvedev and US tennis legend Stan Smith examine the championship trophy after Medvedev defeated Novak Djokovic in the men’s final match of the US Open. EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE


By Ricky Dimon

There has been a whole lot of failure amongst the younger generation in their attempts to stop the Big 3 of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal from racking up 60 Grand Slams–20 each.

Daniil Medvedev is all too familiar with those shortcomings. He came close to denying Nadal a fourth U.S. Open title in 2019, while he didn’t come close at all against Djokovic in the Australian Open final earlier this season.

On Sunday afternoon, Medvedev was once again the last man standing between one of the Big 3 and history.

And what history it would have been. Djokovic was going for the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s singles since 1969 (Rod Laver) while also looking to break a tie with Federer and Nadal atop the all-time men’s singles slam titles list. Although the GOAT debate is subjective, success on Sunday would have all but slammed the door on that question in Djokovic’s favor.

Instead, Medvedev denied–or at least delayed–all of that. The world No. 2 finally got over the hump and created history of his own, capturing a major title for the first time by upsetting Djokovic in surprisingly decisive 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 fashion.

It may end up marking a momentous occasion for an entire generation of younger players (not necessarily young, but younger than Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal). That remains to be seen, but what is certain is that it’s a milestone moment for Medvedev. And it’s one that had been a long time coming, too.

Although still just 25 years old, the Russian had seemingly been next in line to become the next first-time slam champion since his epic loss to Nadal in the 2019 final at Flushing Meadows. But it was Dominic Thiem who broke through last summer in New York, defeating Medvedev in the semis and Alexander Zverev in the championship match. Despite being ranked No. 2 in the world for much of this season, Medvedev fell woefully short against Djokovic at Melbourne Park (7-5, 6-2, 6-2), struggled as usual on clay, and was upset by Hubert Hurkacz in a five-set Wimbledon quarterfinal. Contemporaries Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini came closer to Grand Slam glory than he did though the first seven months of 2021.

Still, it felt like only a matter of time before the next rising-star breakthrough would come from Medvedev. He set himself up perfectly to do so at this U.S. Open by rolling to the Toronto Masters table. For the final, specifically, the stars could not have been more aligned after Medvedev pretty much made mincemeat out of his first six opponents whereas Djokovic struggled mightily–at least by the Serb’s lofty standards.

To say that Medvedev capitalized on the opportunity would be a gross understatement.

He broke Djokovic right away, dominated from there en route to a 6-4, 6-4, 5-1 lead, and ended up winning in just two hours and 15 minutes. The second seed’s only hiccup came when he double-faulted on championship point at 5-2 and got broken for the first time all day–in part because of an overly enthused crowd that was trying to inspire a Djokovic comeback. On his second time of asking, however, Medvedev delivered a clutch hold to get across the finish line.

“He did so well,” Djokovic praised. “I mean, he was amazing. Just congratulate him, full credit from his mentality, his approach, his game; everything. He absolutely was the better player and deserved to win, no doubt about it.

“Of course I’m disappointed with the overall game that I performed today. I know I could have and should have done better. But it’s sport, you know. You win some, you lose some. It’s a tough loss; very tough loss. But at the same time I’m happy for him because he’s a nice guy and he deserves it. He really does.”

Medvedev did especially well to turn in such a strong performance even with the fans on Djokovic’s side, as they were itching to catch a glimpse of history.

epa09464555 Daniil Medvedev of Russia reacts in the third set against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during their men’s final match on the fourteenth day of the US Open Tennis Championships at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, USA, 12 September 2021. The US Open runs from 30 August through 12 September. EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE

“I want to thank you guys,” Medvedev told the crowd. “Today maybe you were a little bit more for Novak, but that’s completely understandable. Throughout the week you gave me a lot of energy, starting from 2019, long ago. It helped me ’til today. It was not easy, but thanks a lot.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

Editors Note • yeah I chose Medvedev in 4/5 sets. I felt that most of the tourney Novak looked like a Ferrari in need of a visit to the mechanic. He just never was fully himself. Was it the fact that he was chasing history? Maybe someday we will know. In the meantime, he thinks the NYC crowd loves him. They love to get their money’s worth and for the match to be an epic historical moment that would have lasted 5 and they were part of. (LJ)