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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 12, 2021


Daniil Medvedev dismantled a weary Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 denying the world No. 1 the calendar Grand Slam and claiming his maiden major at the US Open.

Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA/US Open

Staring at the court three sets from realizing his Grand Slam dream, Novak Djokovic ran into a rousing Russian roadblock and saw it shattered.

A masterful Daniil Medvedev deconstructed a weary Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 denying the world No. 1 his dream of capturing the calendar Grand Slam and claiming his record 21st Grand Slam crown in an imposing US Open final.

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The man nicknamed Meddy Bear roared at the right time bombing 16 aces, saving five of six break points and bamboozling Djokovic with some audacious drop shots to win his maiden major in his third Grand Slam final. Medvedev snapped Djokovic's 27-match major winning streak while closing the gap on the world No. 1 in the live rankings to less than 1,400 points.

Halting history made his maiden major even sweeter.

"I do feel sorry for Novak because I cannot imagine what he feels. I don't know this feeling," Medvedev said. "It definitely makes it sweeter. I mean, a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam. I would win it against Botic in the final, probably I would be same happy.

"For the confidence and for my future career, knowing that I beat somebody who was 27-0 in a year in Grand Slams, I lost to him in Australia, he was going for huge history, and knowing that I managed to stop him it definitely makes it sweeter and brings me confidence for what is to come on hard courts so far, but let's see about other surfaces."

The 6'6" Medvedev, whom Hall of Famer John McEnroe calls "the best mover 6'6" and above I've ever seen on a tennis court," denied Djokovic angles, won the running rallies and muted the crowd in a complete performance that spanned two hours, 20 minutes and saw him survive a bumpy close. Confronting nerves, cramps and a crowd trying to rouse Djokovic, Medvedev committed a couple of double faults when he first served for the title at 5-2, but eventually closed on his second attempt serving at 5-4.

A joyous world No. 2 Medvedev raised the title trophy and celebrated bestowing the GOAT title on the world No. 1. 

"First of all I want to saw sorry for Novak we all know what he was going for today," Medvedev told the crowd. "And I just want to say anyway what you accomplished this year and throughout your career, I never say this before, but I will say it right now for me you are the greatest tennis player in history."

The second-ranked Russian won his maiden major and the champion’s check of $2.5 million, while Djokovic won this 2021 season and the hearts of Arthur Ashe Stadium fans showing pure grace and class after a heart-breaking loss.

"I would like to say congratulations to Daniil for an amazing match, amazing tournament," Djokovic said. "If there is anyone that deserves a Grand Slam title right now it’s you. So well done. "

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who engaged Medvedev in an emotional embrace and shed tears, raised the runner-up trophy and touched his heart gesturing to fans his appreciation for their support.

In defeat Djokovic gained what has been so long denied from him in so many major finals: the pure love and respect from the faithful. He was deeply moved and thanked fans even stopping on his way off the court to take selfies and sign autographs in a show of appreciation. 

"I would like to say that tonight even though I have not won the match my heart is filled with joy and I’m the happiest man alive because you guys make me feel very special on court," Djokovic said. "You guys touch my soul. I never felt like this in New York. I love you guys. Thank you so much fo your support and everything you have done tonight for me. I love you and I will see you soon.""

Avenging the thrashing he suffered to the world No. 1 in the Australian Open final last February, Medvedev joins 2000 champion Marat Safin as the second Russian man to raise the US Open trophy.

Before a packed pro-Djokovic crowd featuring legendary Rocket Rod Laver, who won the 1969 US Open at Forest Hills to become the only man in Open Era history to complete the calendar Slam, the 34-year-old Serbian looked depleted from spending five hours, 35 more minutes on court than the 25-year-old Russian.

While it’s easy to blame Djokovic’s decision to play the Tokyo Olympics as well as the massive stress he faced playing for tennis immortality and the greatest men’s Grand Slam record for this defeat, but you must credit Medvedev for his powerful self belief and poise staring down both the world No. 1 and the vocal pro-Djokovic crowd.

Djokovic didn't lose this final, Medvedev thoroughly took it and fulfilled the vow he made before the tournament "we're here to stop Novak."

If you can’t beat Djokovic, be him. That seemed to be the world No. 2’s tactical mantra as he beat the world No. 1 at his own game.

It’s a monumental win for Medvedev, who makes a statement as the first member of his generation to beat a Big 3 champion in a Grand Slam final.

Delivering a masterful mix of high-percentage drives down the middle with some daring drop shots and angles, Medvedev defeating Djokovic with the same confident efficiency his Russian ATP Cup captain, Marat Safin, showed toppling Pete Sampras 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the 2000 US Open final.

Essentially, Medvedev beat Djokovic at his own game playing crisp high percentage combinations down the middle and cracking winners when he had the open court.

Contesting his 31st Grand Slam final, Djokovic committed 38 unforced errors, while Medvedev hit 38 winners.

Hall of Famer Rod Laver, Maria Sharapova, Alec Baldwin, Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Spike Lee, Stan Smith, and famed Rafa fan Ben Stiller were among the famous faces in the fully packed Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd buzzing with electricity. Djokovic wass 59-9 since being booted from the 2020 US Open after accidentally striking a lineswoman in the throat with a ball, while Medvedev had won 17 of last 19 US Open matches.

The second seed surged to a first-rate start drawing successive forehand errors to break and rapping a couple of aces to confirm for 2-0. Medvedev fired four aces and won eight of the first nine points played on his serve for 3-1.

A sharp-serving Medvedev slashed his eighth ace out wide serving out the 36-minute opener at 15. Medvedev won all 15 of his points played on serve in a dominant set.

Riding a 27-match major winning streak into this final, Djokovic dropped the opening set for the fifth straight time in this Open.

Serving sustained the Russian, who withstood a triple break point tempest with a couple of aces holding to level the second set.

Draping a towel over his head, Vera Zvonareva-style on the changeover, Djokovic refocused and earned another break point in the fourth game. Medvedev dug out a side-spinning drop volley to save it and erased a second as a seething Djokovic cracked his Head racket to the hard court three times in a row dislodging the dampener to release frustration.

The racquet smash didn’t soothe tension. Djokovic spun a soft 79 mph second serve and paid the price as Medvedev earned double break point in the fifth game. On his second break point, the Russian dipped a pass off the Serbian’s shoelaces coaxing a volley error to break for 3-2.

Tennis Express

Cracking a 116 mph slider ace, Medvedev daringly drop-shotted Djokovic and got away with it, reading the crosscourt reply and pushing a stretched forehand down the line for triple set point.

On his third set point, Medvedev followed a stinging serve with a tame dropper that sat up but Djokovic badly bungled his reply shoveling it well wide as Medvedev dodged the stress and snatched a two-set lead after just 90 minutes of play.

The resolute Russian denied all five break points he faced in the set and doubled Djokovic’s winner output—14 to 7—taking a commanding two-set lead while a wide-eyed Djokovic looked winded and rattled.

Could the 34-year-old Serbian, who roared back from a two-set deficit to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros final last June, rouse himself on the game’s biggest Grand Slam stage with tennis immortality at stake? Djokovic had registered six comebacks from two sets down but this had heightened degree of difficulty as the most important match of his career.

Though Djokovic’s two-handed backhand is his signature shot, Medvedev was nearly unerring on his own two-hander playing deep down the middle to elicit a backhand error breaking two start the third set.

Self-belief growing stronger with each passing game, Medvedev wasn’t wasting time with any elaborate celebration. Apart from a raised clenched fist to punctuate key points, the world No. 2 was all business.

Testing the Serbian’s legs, Medvedev got away with a couple of mediocre drop shots when a streaking Djokovic slapped his replies into the tape. Racing up to a drop volley, Medvedev torched a forehand crosscourt to back up the break.

A clinical Medvedev charged out to a 4-0 third-set lead as the disconsolate top seed looked dazed and nearly done.

Novak Djokovic

Changing from a blue to a white shirt in a bid to change his luck, Djokovic sprayed a forehand as Medvedev earned championship point. The second seed double faulted on his first championship point, then showed spiking nerves with another double fault and error. Djokovic broke for the first time all day and exhorted fans to make more noise.

The crowd responded roaring support and chants of Djokovic's name. Feeling the love, Djokovic grew emotional.

"Of course, part of me is very sad. It's a tough one to swallow, this loss, I mean, considering everything that was on the line," Djokovic said. "But on the other hand I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The crowd made me very special. They pleasantly surprised me. I did not know, I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I'll remember forever.

"I mean, that's the reason on the changeover I just teared up. "The emotion, the energy was so strong. I mean, it's as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That's how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special. They touched my heart, honestly. Of course, in the end of the day you want to win. You're a professional athlete. These are the kind of moments that you cherish. These are connections that you establish with people that will be lasting for a very long time."

Closure was complicated, but completely fulfilling for Medvedev.

"What was different before Australian Open that I had, yeah, clear plan in my mind what I have to do in which moment," Medvedev said. "Of course, it would depend a lot on him because, again, sometimes you have to be aggressive, sometimes defensive. I had a clear plan which did seem to work.

"Was he at his best? Maybe not today. He had a lot of pressure. I had a lot of pressure, too, about the risk on the second serve, it was because of the confidence I had. I knew I cannot give him easy serves because that's what he likes. So that was the plan. Because of the confidence in a lot of tight moments, I managed to do it well."

Rapping a forehand down the line brought the Russian another championship point. Medvedev showed the nerves double-faulting again. But when Djokovic netted his return, Medvedev closed with a delayed collapse to the court and a wide smile.

The pair shared a respectful embrace at net knowing this may not be their last major final meeting.


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