Novak Djokovic said that he was going to play this match as if it was the last match of his career, that he was going to try every ounce of his heart and soul to do what he could have ever imagined. could.
It wasn’t enough.
With a stunning display of power and creativity, Daniil Medvedev defeated Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the US Open on Sunday, defeating Djokovic’s bid to become the first man to win all in 52 years. terminated. Four Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year. It was one last turn in a tournament that was overflowing with scintillating performances.
For at least one more year, Rod Laver will remain the lone member of the most elite club in modern men’s tennis, and the 2021 US Open will forever be predominantly of an 18-year-old British woman named Emma Radukanu, who went on to The 150th-ranked player went to Grand Slam champion in the most unexpected tennis story of them all.
It was supposed to be Djokovic’s moment, the day he would finally overtake Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and officially become the greatest player of all time.
Instead, whatever spirits pull the strings of this uniquely provocative game, intervenes in the form of a 25-year-old Russian, Djokovic’s neighbor in his adopted home of Monaco, who now lives in Monte Carlo for any awkwardness. Sure to make encounters at the cafes and grocery stores and at the local tennis club where the two train.
Medvedev made a quick start, breaking Djokovic’s serve in the first game of the match and giving Djokovic a few chances to take the first set. It shouldn’t have mattered. Djokovic, 34, was unstable at the start of matches for two weeks before raising his level and returning for victory after win. Surely he will turn the script once again.
And he had three break points on Medvedev’s first serve game, and then another with Medvedev serving 1-2 in the second set, when the sound system malfunctioned and interrupted one of Medvedev’s serve, prompting him to save. Got a new chance. Play.
When Medvedev took that point and then another, the weight of it all finally broke the man who seemed inexhaustible. Djokovic smashed his racket with a violent smack on a court that had given him so many championships before.
A game later, Medvedev swung a backhand over Djokovic’s toes while charging over the net, and while Djokovic’s volley swam long, his chance to crush a dream was just a few more games and a set away.
Medvedev said, “He was leaving for the vast history.” “Knowing that I managed to stop him, it definitely makes it sweeter.”
Djokovic recently defeated Medvedev in a one-sided battle for his ninth Australian Open title in February, a moment that seems like a lifetime ago when no one was talking about winning one’s Grand Slam.
And yet, when the US Open draw came out two weeks ago, it was looking tough for Djokovic. Big serve Italian Matteo Berrettini advanced to the quarter-finals. Alexander Zverev, the talented German who overtook Djokovic at the Olympics and was the hottest player in the world at the start of the tournament, was likely to be his semifinal foe. And if Djokovic could get through to those players, he was going to meet Medvedev, the second best player in the world, whose game, a confusing mix of power and spin, is becoming more and more dangerous with each passing month. He was a fitting final hurdle for Djokovic in his quest for the biggest prize of his game.
Medvedev is 6 feet 6 inches tall and slender like a bamboo pole. At first glance, he doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of a professional athlete. He’ll go around the court making shots that few can see coming, then bomb an ace or pound a flat backhand down the line.
Coming into the tournament, conventional wisdom held that the only way to defeat Djokovic was to take the racket out of his hands with so many unmistakable balls that one of the greatest defenders in the game would not be able to survive the onslaught.
Medvedev did that and more, pushing Djokovic back on his heels and handcuffing him to the net at the handful of points that decide every tennis match, with history on the line and 23,000 fans watching it. are looking forward to.
For Djokovic, the loss was a disappointment that practically no one could understand except Serena Williams. She was the last player to enter the final major championship of the year with a single shot at a Grand Slam. She also lost to Italy’s Roberta Vinci in the 2015 semi-final on the same court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
On a personal level, the loss shocked Djokovic in a way Williams would never have felt. Djokovic has spent much of his adult life chasing down giants who claimed the sport only a few years before his stage debut. He quickly proved he could be on par with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, then backed down, only to come back stronger and repeat the cycle over and over.
He entered the tournament with 20 in the race for the most career Grand Slam titles alongside Federer and Rafael Nadal. He desperately wants that record to seal his legacy as the greatest player in tennis history.
Djokovic’s compatriots from Serbia worship him, but he was not liked anywhere else until Sunday, when it seemed everyone wanted to see him deliver. Djokovic has spent more time as world No 1 than Nadal or Federer, and he is the only man to have a winning record against those two major rivals. Yet nothing would declare him the greatest as winning four Grand Slam tournaments in a year.
Federer and Nadal have never come close and probably never will. Djokovic beat Nadal this year at his state in Paris, where he has won 13 French Open titles. Then Djokovic captured Wimbledon for the sixth time in July, on the grass Federer has long regarded as his front lawn.
He could not win an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo this summer for the fourth jewel of the so-called golden slam, only Steffi Graf has achieved something.
Djokovic stuns his fellow athletes in the Olympic Village, but Lost to Zverev in the semifinals and then to Pablo Carreo Busta in the bronze medal match. The heat and weight of the journey had started to show their effect.
Djokovic took about a month off from the competition, then came to New York to fulfill his mission to fix things. A year earlier, after losing the first set of his fourth-round US Open match, he turned the ball angrily, regardless of which direction the ball was headed. This one line moved towards the judge’s throat, An automatic disqualification is required.
Djokovic’s first six games at the 2021 US Open mostly followed a familiar pattern – some early volatility, including a loss in the first set of four consecutive matches, before Djokovic emerged to take care of killer business.
He took five sets against Zverev in the semi-finals. When that was over, and there was just one match to go, Djokovic embraced the shape of the moment at hand – with his heart and his soul and everything else. Surely that would be enough.
Tennis, however, can be so hard at times, even for the greatest player in the world who took it so easy for so long.
He refused to go quietly, standing up late in the third set and saving match points as Medvedev succumbed to the pressure of pulling off his first Grand Slam title. He produced two double faults and an ugly backhand in the net, and Djokovic rode to the deafening cheers of the crowd to fight back within a game.
It had taken so long for the fans to follow him, a whole career indeed, but now he was there, and as Djokovic sat in his chair, he smiled, shed tears and clapped his fist, knowing it all. How deep was the pit he dug for himself.
Maybe one day that moment will serve as a nice consolation for not winning a Grand Slam. He would later say that those enthusiastic cheers meant as much as the 21st Grand Slam title. There are worse things.
Back on the court, Medvedev had an almost unassailable lead, and he made sure not to waste his second chance at completing the championship. He made one last serve that Djokovic could not return to the net, ending the toughest searches few could imagine.
There would be no Grand Slams, but there was love, and Djokovic, once a sentimentalist, a warrior and a deep thinker who often got him in trouble, knew it was nothing.
“My heart is filled with joy, and I am the happiest person because you guys made me feel like this on the court,” he said just before lifting the plate instead of the trophy. “I never felt that way.”