Novak Djokovic stated he was going to play this match as if it have been the final of his profession, that he was going to pour each ounce of his coronary heart and soul into making an attempt to do what few thought might ever be finished once more.
It was not sufficient.
With a startling show of energy and creativity, Daniil Medvedev upset Djokovic, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, within the closing of the U.S. Open on Sunday, ending Djokovic’s bid to develop into the primary man in 52 years to win all 4 Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar yr. It was one final twist in a match that overflowed with gorgeous performances.
For at the very least one other yr, Rod Laver will stay the lone member of essentially the most unique membership in fashionable males’s tennis, and the 2021 U.S. Open will eternally belong primarily to an 18-year-old British lady named Emma Raducanu, who went from being the A hundred and fiftieth-ranked participant to a Grand Slam champion in essentially the most unlikely tennis story of all of them.
This was alleged to be Djokovic’s second, the day that he would lastly surge previous Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and formally develop into the best participant of all time.
As a substitute, no matter spirits pull the strings of this uniquely exasperating sport intervened within the type of a lanky 25-year-old Russian, a neighbor of Djokovic’s of their adopted house of Monaco who is bound now to create any variety of awkward encounters at Monte Carlo’s cafes and grocery shops and on the native tennis membership the place each of them prepare.
Medvedev began quick, breaking Djokovic’s serve within the first sport of the match and giving Djokovic few possibilities to take the primary set. That was not alleged to matter. Djokovic, 34, had been shaky early in matches for 2 weeks, earlier than elevating his degree and storming again for win after win. Absolutely, he would flip the script as soon as extra.
And he had the opening, three break factors on Medvedev’s first service sport, after which one other with Medvedev serving at 1-2 within the second set, when the sound system malfunctioned and interrupted one in all Medvedev’s serves, giving him a recent likelihood to save lots of the sport.
When Medvedev took that time after which one other, the load of all of it lastly broke the person who had appeared unbreakable. Djokovic dismantled his racket with a violent smack on a courtroom that had delivered him so many championships earlier than.
A sport later, Medvedev curled a backhand onto Djokovic’s toes as he charged to the online, and when Djokovic’s volley floated lengthy, the prospect to crush a dream was just some extra video games and one set away.
“He was going for enormous historical past,” Medvedev stated. “Realizing that I managed to cease him, it positively makes it sweeter.”
Djokovic had crushed Medvedev most just lately in a lopsided battle in February for his ninth Australian Open title, a second that appears a lifetime in the past, when nobody was speaking about anybody profitable a Grand Slam.
And but, when the draw for the U.S. Open got here out two weeks in the past, it appeared daunting for Djokovic. Matteo Berrettini, the big-serving Italian, loomed within the quarterfinals. Alexander Zverev, the gifted German who knocked off Djokovic on the Olympics and was the most well liked participant on this planet in the beginning of this match, was more likely to be his semifinal foe. And if Djokovic might get by these gamers, he was most certainly going to fulfill Medvedev, the world’s second finest participant, whose sport, a beguiling mixture of energy and spins, appears to develop extra harmful with every passing month. He was a becoming closing impediment for Djokovic within the hunt for his or her sport’s greatest prize.
Medvedev stands 6 toes 6 inches tall and is as skinny as a bamboo pole. At first look, he seems like no person’s concept of knowledgeable athlete. He’ll scurry across the courtroom creating photographs that few can see coming, then bomb an ace or pound a flat backhand down the road.
Coming into the match, standard knowledge held that the one solution to beat Djokovic was to take the racket out of his arms with so many unreturnable balls that one of many biggest defenders within the sport wouldn’t have the ability to survive the onslaught.
Medvedev did that and a lot extra, pushing Djokovic again on his heels and handcuffing him on the internet on these handful of factors that determine each tennis match, with historical past on the road and 23,000 followers determined to witness it.
For Djokovic, the loss delivered a disappointment that virtually nobody however Serena Williams might perceive. She had been the final participant to enter the yr’s closing main championship with a shot on the Grand Slam. She, too, fell to an underdog, Roberta Vinci of Italy, on the identical courtroom in Arthur Ashe Stadium, within the 2015 semifinals.
On a private degree, this loss most certainly stung Djokovic in a means that Williams could by no means have felt. Djokovic has spent most of his grownup life chasing legends who claimed this sport as their very own just some years earlier than he burst onto the scene. He proved early on that he could possibly be the equal of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, then sagged again, solely to return again stronger and repeat the cycle again and again.
He entered this match tied with Federer and Rafael Nadal within the race for essentially the most profession Grand Slam titles, with 20. He desperately needs that file, to seal his legacy as the best participant in tennis historical past.
Djokovic’s compatriots from Serbia worship him, however he has been largely unloved elsewhere, till Sunday, when seemingly everybody wished to see him ship. Djokovic has spent extra time ranked because the world No. 1 than Nadal or Federer, and is the one one who has a profitable file in opposition to these two chief rivals. But nothing would declare him as the best of all like profitable the 4 Grand Slam tournaments in a single yr.
Federer and Nadal have by no means come shut, and most certainly by no means will. This yr, Djokovic beat Nadal in his kingdom in Paris, the place he has received 13 French Open titles. Then Djokovic captured Wimbledon for a sixth time in July, on the grass that Federer has lengthy handled like his entrance garden.
He couldn’t win the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo this summer season for the fourth jewel of the so-called Golden Slam, one thing solely Steffi Graf has achieved.
Djokovic soaked up the adoration of his fellow athletes within the Olympic Village, however misplaced to to Zverev within the semifinals after which to Pablo Carreño Busta within the bronze medal match. The warmth and weight of the journey have been starting to take their toll.
Djokovic took almost a month off from competitors, then got here to New York to complete his mission, to make issues proper. A yr in the past he swatted a ball in anger after shedding the primary set of his fourth-round U.S. Open match, with none regard for the place the ball was headed. It rocketed towards the throat of a line choose, requiring an automated disqualification.
Djokovic’s first six matches on the 2021 U.S. Open adopted a largely acquainted sample — some early shakiness, together with losses in first units of 4 consecutive matches, earlier than Djokovic the murderer emerged to maintain enterprise.
It took 5 units in opposition to Zverev within the semifinal. When that was over, and there was only one match to go, Djokovic embraced the dimensions of the second at hand — along with his coronary heart and his soul and every part else he had. Absolutely, that might be sufficient.
Tennis, although, could be so laborious generally, even for the world’s biggest participant, who had made it look really easy for therefore lengthy.
He refused to go quietly, standing agency late within the third set and saving match level as Medvedev succumbed to the strain of closing out his first Grand Slam title. He produced two double faults and an unpleasant backhand into the online, and Djokovic rode the deafening cheers of the gang to battle again to inside a sport.
It had taken so lengthy for the followers to get behind him, a whole profession actually, however now they have been there, and as Djokovic sat in his chair, he smiled on the throngs, teared up momentarily and pumped his fist, all of the whereas realizing how deep the outlet he had dug for himself actually was.
Perhaps sooner or later that second will function respectable comfort for not profitable the Grand Slam. He would later say that these rousing cheers meant as a lot as a twenty first Grand Slam title. There are worse issues.
Again on the courtroom, Medvedev had his almost insurmountable lead, and he made positive to not waste his second likelihood to serve out the championship. He blasted one final serve that Djokovic couldn’t get again over the online, ending essentially the most troublesome of quests in a means that few might have imagined.
There can be no Grand Slam, however there was love, and Djokovic, who’s directly a sentimentalist, a warrior and a deep thinker with an impetuous streak that has typically gotten him into hassle, knew that was not nothing.
“My coronary heart is stuffed with pleasure, and I’m the happiest man alive since you guys made me really feel that means on the courtroom,” he stated simply earlier than elevating a plate as a substitute of a trophy. “I by no means felt like this.”