Daniil Medvedev in Sunday won his first Grand Slam title and become the first Russian man to win a major for 16 years, breaking Novak Djokovic’s stranglehold on 2021 with a dazzling victory at the US Open.
Medvedev came hurtling out of the blocks on a day when the only man ahead of him in the rankings was targeting history, hitting back from 40-15 to break Djokovic – who had won the toss and opted to serve first – in the first game, then breezing through to take the opening set 6-4 in just 36 minutes.
The tension boiled over for Djokovic, perhaps understandably, in the fourth game of the second set, when a technical glitch appeared to gift Medvedev another first serve after the score had reached deuce.
All was not well with the 20-time majors champion, whose zen calmness in his immediate pre-match interview transformed into an uncharacteristic rigidity on the court. This was his chance to clinch the Grand Slam, having won in Melbourne, Paris and London.
At one point, Djokovic appeared to be slapping his calves in what could have been interpreted as an attempt to allay stiffness or fatigue.
Djokovic pulled back just as he motioned to hit a ball in anger after a frustrating point, causing an approaching ball girl to flinch but thankfully avoiding any risk of a repeat of last year’s fiasco that saw him disqualified from the tournament after accidentally hurting a line judge.
With Medvedev on his way to holding serve to make it 2-2 in the set, Djokovic hammered his racket to the ground three times in an act of theatrical obliteration, receiving a warning and apologizing to the crowd for his troubles.
Worse was to come when Medvedev then immediately broke him courtesy of some seamless shot-picking and threatened to do so again in Djokovic’s next service game.
Medvedev produced several stunning shots in a brutal rally to subsequently hold serve, sending Djokovic haring back and forth across the court, returning shots at full stretch in that familiar style which usually proves telling in his favor.
His opponent, this time, was ready and full of the tactical astuteness he is renowned for. Djokovic did not have enough moments of inspiration to rescue the set, losing it 6-4.
When Djokovic finds himself in these scenarios, there often seems an inevitability that the machine will slip back into unstoppable mode. Not so here.
Medvedev broke immediately at the start of the third set, possibly feeling as surprised as the rest of the stadium when, at deuce in the next game, Djokovic fired a routine shot into the tape after advancing to the net when a winner seemed on.
With beads of sweat sliding from the faces of both men, everything seemed to be going Medvedev’s way. He held serve after Djokovic had again looked menacing at the net, then won the first point of his opponent’s next service game on his way to opening up a 30-0 lead.
“It’s the third anniversary for me and my wife today,” revealed Medvedev. “During the tournament, I couldn’t think about a present or anything.
“Before the semifinal, I thought, ‘if I lose, I have no time to get a present.’ I love you, Dasha.”
Djokovic was tearful again as he spoke. “Congratulations to Daniil – amazing match, amazing tournament,” he said. “If there is anyone who deserves a Grand Slam title right now, it’s you.