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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 10, 2023


Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 In tonight’s US Open final to capture his 24th Grand Slam crown matching Margaret Court’s all-time record.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty

NEW YORK—Iconic champions can be immune to expiration dates.

Novak Djokovic continues to backhand all comers—and advancing age—tuning up timeless tennis in major matches.

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In a rematch of the 2021 final, a resourceful Djokovic dispatched Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 In tonight’s US Open final to capture his 24th Grand Slam crown matching Margaret Court’s all-time record.

Fifty years after Court claimed her final major championship at Forest Hills, the 36-year-old Serbian superstar made his mark as the oldest men’s US Open champion in history in Flushing Meadows.

"It obviously means the world to me," Djokovic told Arthur Ashe Stadium fans. "I’m really living my childhood dream to compete at the highest level fo the sport that has given me and my family so much.

"My parents giving a lot of sacrifice to support me to play, I love you thank you so much."

When Medvedev's final drive expired in net, Djokovic flung his Head racquet aside and thrust his arms high in the air. Afterward, Djokovic collected his winning racquet and handed it to a fan as a gift. Clad in a white warm-up with the No. 24 on front, Djokovic wore a white t-shirt emblazoned with the face of his departed friend, former Lakers star Kobe Bryant, and the message "Mamba Mentality" as a tribute to Bryant who wore No. 24 and served as a mentor to the Grand Slam champion.

It is Djokovic’s fourth US Open championship and his third Grand Slam crown of the year following winning his 10th career Australian Open title and his third Roland Garros championship. Djokovic made history tonight as the first man to win three Grand Slam championships in a single season four times (2011, 2015, 2021 and 2023). Djokovic not only made more history, he spoiled Medvedev's planned wedding anniversary present for his wife, Daria.

"I want to ask Novak what are you still doing here? Our third final maybe not the last I don’t know when you are planning to slow down a little bit," Medvedev said during the trophy presentation. "I mean 24 [Grand Slams],  I feel I have not a bad career I have 20 titles and you have 24 Grand Slams.

"Wow. Congratulations to you and your team, you guys are amazing."

Even when Medvedev seemed to shrink the gap as he did earning a set point in the second set, Djokovic had an authoritative answer to deepen the divide. Winning that marathon 144-minute second set, the longest set of the tournament, elevated Djokovic, who was bending over inhaling gulps of air at times trying to recover from physically punishing points.

"What probably made the difference and the key of the match was second set, almost two hours. I don't think I have ever played a longer set in my life, particularly not on this occasion against a top player like Daniil," Djokovic said. "I think he was probably a better player in the second set. He deserved to win that set more than I did. Somehow I managed to turn things around in the tiebreak. When it mattered I put one ball into play more than he did. And that was enough.

"And after that, you know, set break, I regained my energy. So the third set was, I felt better than I did in the second. Honestly, in the second I felt like I was losing air on so many occasions, and my legs, as well. I don't recall being so exhausted after rallies really as I have been in the second set."

Contesting his record-extending 36th major final, Djokovic channeled his tennis hero, Pete Sampras, relentlessly attacking net on big points.

In one of the finest volleying performances of his Grand Slam final career, Djokovic won 37 of 44 trips to net (84 percent), including saving a set point in the second set with a two-volley combination and dropping serve just once in a three hour, 17-minute triumph.

A jam-packed Arthur Ashe Stadium was rocking with the roof closed and fans reacting to celebrities' faces flashing across the jumbo screens. Billie Jean King, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Christie Brinkley, Eva Longoria, Sting, Jerry Seinfeld, Stan Smith, Justin Timberlake, Molly Ringwald, Martha Stewart, Lil Wayne and Andy Roddick, who helped conduct the coin toss, were among the famous faces in the crowd of more than 23,000.

Across the net, consider the massive major hurdle Medvedev faced.

The third-seeded Medvedev was bidding to become the first player to beat the No. 1 and 2 seeds en route to the US Open title since 1975 when No. 3 Manuel Orantes beat No. 2 Guillermo Vilas in the semifinals and No. 1 Jimmy Connors in the final.

Medvedev was also trying to defeat Djokovic back-to-back for the first time in their rivalry after stopping the Serbian in the Dubai final on March 4th. That was Djokovic’s lone hard-court loss in 27 matches on the surface this season and set the stage for another climactic major showdown.

Though the former champion poured himself into this match he could not stay in step with a superior Djokovic. Afterward, Medvedev conceded his failure to convert set point and his stubborn refusal to alter his return position to counter the Serbian's successful serve-and-volleys proved costly.

"For sure pity that I didn't win the second set because I felt like I was let's call it all over him, like I was dominating in a way. Just should have done better," Medvedev said. "Was a little bit stubborn on return. I probably should have changed my position and stuff like this, but I had the feeling that it's gonna work like this and I'm going to make it work because I was a little bit returning worse than let's say with Carlos.

"When the set was over, I was like, yeah, I was too stubborn, I should have done differently. But, you know, again, that's how tennis is. Backhand the same, backhand not cross but down the line, the set is over. Sometimes it's tough."

Tennis Express

The pair faced off in the US Open final for the second time in three years.

On September 12th, 2021, a masterful Medvedev deconstructed a weary Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 denying the world No. 1 his dream of capturing the calendar Grand Slam.

In that match, 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 in the process.

In today’s rematch, Djokovic was in no mood to play catch-up.

Fast final starts are standard procedure for Djokovic, who won the coin toss elected to serve and slammed successive aces for the opening hold.

Making Medvedev feel his presence from the first ball, Djokovic capitalized on a horrific opening game from the Russian. Medvedev double-faulted and sent a short forehand well long gifting the break and a 2-0 lead at love.

From love-30 down, Djokovic ran off four points in a row smacking another ace-ending game to consolidate for 3-0. Medvedev held at 15 to finally get on the board after 17 minutes of play.

The 2021 champion adopted his customary deep return position so far behind the baseline, Medvedev could have turned and tapped the blue back wall with his Tecnifibre racquet.

Applying his all-court versatility, Djokovic began serving-and-volleying to exploit the Russian’s remote return position. Though Medvedev outdueled Djokovic in a 36-shot rally—the longest exchange of the tournament—Djokovic held strong for 4-1.

On his third set point, Djokovic drew the error to snatch a one-set lead after 48 minutes. The 10-time Australian Open champion hit 12 winners to 8 for Medvedev and did not face a break point in the set.

In one stretch, Djokovic ran off 15 consecutive serve points.

A sweat-saturated Medvedev was tested severely in the seventh game of the second set. Confronting break point, Medvedev unleashed a forehand drive volley to save it. Scalding his fifth ace, Medvedev closed for 4-3 withstanding a four deuce game that spanned nearly 10 minutes—the longest game of the final.

Facing break point in the next game, Djokovic deployed the serve-and-volley, flicking a fine forehand half volley winner then waving his hand to exhort fans to make more noise. As the game waged on past the 12-minute mark, Djokovic dabbed a drop volley and an angled volley to subdue stress holding for 4-all.

That spirited hold prompted Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, to leap from her seat and shout out support.

Though Medvedev was pushing deeper in Djokovic service games, the Serbian backed up his first serve strongly and was volleying impeccably. Djokovic dug out a low volley that helped him hold to level 10 games into the second set. By then, Djokovic had won 19 of 21 trips to net, including several successful serve-and-volleys.

The lanky Russian did not do enough with a smash and Djokovic flicked a pass to push Medvedev to deuce in the 11th game. The third seed stood tall holding for 6-5.

A two double-fault game—his third and fourth double faults of the second set—left Djokovic stretching out his legs locked at deuce. Medvedev rapped a two-hander down the line to earn a set point at two hours, 13 minutes.

The serve-and-volley saved Djokovic again as he attacked. Medvedev had a look at at a backhand pass, but instead of going down the line he tried to play crosscourt. Djokovic was waiting, blocking a volley that left him smiling. A gritty Djokovic slid a serve down the middle ending a hard-fought hold to force the second-set tiebreaker.

The third seed took a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker and was serving for 4-1 but put a forehand into net.

At 4-4, Medvedev carved out a clever drop shot igniting a roar from fans as he pushed to within two points of the set.

Djokovic would not let him get closer. Prevailing in a 23-shot rally, Djokovic edged ahead and serve-and-volleyed for 6-5 and a set point.

Fans were chanting “Novak! Novak!” and when Medvedev pasted a backhand into net, Djokovic snatched a two-set lead, improving his 2023 tiebreak record to 26-5.

The entire Djokovic box was bouncing up and down in joy, including Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey, who was high-fiving Djokovic’s parents in the support box.

Following a punishing one hour, 45-minute set, Djokovic departed the court for a clothing change, while Medvedev stripped off his Lacoste shirt and took treatment for a sore left shoulder.

In his 101st US Open match, the 36-year-old Djokovic looked physically fresher than the 27-year-old Medvedev and pushed the physicality forward. Djokovic drew a weary netted error break for a 3-1 third-set lead.

The finish line seemed a formality, but Medvedev wasn’t done. Exploiting a sloppy game from the Serbian, Medvedev broke back in the fifth game as Djokovic screamed at his box in frustration.

Resetting, Djokovic broke right back for 4-2.

When Medvedev missed a backhand down the line, Djokovic had championship point.

Embed from Getty Images

One final Medvedev drive expired in next and Djokovic reclaimed this US Open and reasserted himself as the premiere champion in the game.

An emotional Djokovic embraced his young daughter, Tara, who hugged her famous father in a poignant exchange before embracing in a group hug with his entire box.

Afterward, Djokovic shared that seeing the sweet smile of four-year-old Tara during that second-set stress test infused him with positive energy to finish the job. 

"She was facing me when I was sitting on the bench. And she smiled at me. Every single time I needed, I guess that kind of innocent child energy, I got it from her," Djokovic said of his daughter. "You know, when I was going through the very stressful moments, particularly in the second set when I needed a little bit of a push, of a strength, of, yeah, just lightness, I guess, she gave me a smile, a fist pump.

"She was into it. You know, it's so funny to see that and so interesting to see that she's six years old, my son is nine, and they were both there. They're both aware of what's happening. When I became a father that was one of my wishes, that I would live the day to experience winning a slam in front of them and they realize what's going on, that they are old enough to understand what's going on."

Embracing the pressure of his New York City return, Djokovic lit up Arthur Ashe Stadium again with this memorable major march. Twenty minutes after hoisting the US Open trophy for the fourth time, Djokovic was still hugging the silverware like a long-lost friend as he carried it from the court through the hallways of Ashe Stadium as he walked in for his post-match presser.

"I don't put any number right now in my mind on how many slams I want to win until the end of my career. I don't really have any number," Djokovic said. "I'll continue to prioritize them as my most important tournaments and where I want to play the best tennis. So that will not change. That will stay the same in the next season or I don't know how many more seasons I have in my legs. So let's see."


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