US Open 2021

Beating Novak 'a big thing'

Coach sees Medvedev leading charge against Big Three after foiling No. 1's bid for history

NEW YORK • Novak Djokovic said he was going to play this match as if it were the last of his career, that he was going to pour every ounce of his heart and soul into trying to do what few thought could ever be done again.

It was not enough. With a startling display of power and creativity, Daniil Medvedev upset the world No. 1 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the US Open on Sunday, ending the Serb's bid to become the first man in 52 years to win all four Majors in a calendar year.

It was one last twist in a tournament that overflowed with stunning performances.

For at least another year, Rod Laver will remain the lone member of the most exclusive club in modern men's tennis, and this year's US Open will forever be associated with women's champion Emma Raducanu, the first qualifier to go all the way.

This was supposed to be the 20-time Slam winner's moment, the day that he would finally surge past Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and officially become the greatest player of all time.

Instead, Medvedev, competing just a stone's throw from the bright lights of Broadway, delivered the performance of a lifetime to become the second male player born in the 90s to win a Major after last year's champion Dominic Thiem.

The world No. 2 had dropped just one set on the way to the final and ripped through each of his first four matches in under two hours, determined to finally get his hands on a Slam trophy.

He had come close here two years ago, coming up short in the final after a five-set thriller against Nadal.

But he was still widely regarded as the underdog when he arrived at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, after losing to Djokovic in straight sets at the Australian Open final earlier this year.

Coming into the tournament, conventional wisdom held that the only way to beat the 34-year-old was to take the racket out of his hands with so many unreturnable balls that one of the greatest defenders in the sport would not be able to survive the onslaught.

The 25-year-old did that and so much more, pushing his opponent back on his heels and handcuffing him at the net on those handful of points that decide every tennis match, with history on the line and 23,000 fans at Flushing Meadows desperate to witness it.

  • 4

    Only four of Novak Djokovic's 11 Grand Slam finals losses are in straight sets.

    2010

    Daniil Medvedev is the first man since Rafael Nadal in 2010 to drop just one set in winning the US Open title.

"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," Medvedev said.

"I'm definitely going to be celebrating the next few days. But let's see about other surfaces."

The Russian has never been ranked higher than second, but there is a sense his Slam breakthrough might inspire a fight to claim the No. 1 spot one day.

There is also an expectation he can now kick on and translate his formidable form on hard courts, on which he has won 11 of his 13 ATP Tour titles, to other surfaces.

Medvedev will not set his sights too high just yet.

Thiem has since regressed after winning his sole Slam, while other contenders like Stefanos Tsitsipas and Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev have yet to win a Major.

The "Big Three" of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are also still the standout players.

"I'm just happy to win a Major," he said. "That's not my first goal in my mind to try to achieve it (No. 1) this year. If I manage to do it one day, it's great..."

However, his coach Gilles Cervara is predicting his charge can be the vanguard of the sport's next generation.

"To beat Novak, in Grand Slam, it's a big thing. In final, it's another big thing," the Frenchman said. "I guess it will make him to be at another level also. For sure, it will be different."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2021, with the headline 'Beating Novak 'a big thing''. Subscribe