Novak Djokovic’s bid to join Don Budge and Rod Laver as the only men to win all four majors in the same season, namely a Calendar Grand Slam, was crushed in straight sets by Daniil Medvedev as the weight of what the world number one from Serbia was trying to achieve, finally took its toll.
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 Daniil Medvedev
“Was glad it was over because the build-up for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot. It was a lot to handle,” Djokovic admitted after being drummed 6-4 6-4 6-4.
“I was just glad that finally the run is over. At the same time, I felt sadness, disappointment, and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment that they’ve created for me on the court.”
That moment came when he was on the verge of defeat in the third set when the vast Arthur Ashe auditorium reverberated with his name as they showed their support for him and his bid for immortality. He has often complained that he hasn’t captured the hearts of the majority of fans and was jealous of the support his two main rivals, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal received wherever they played.
On this occasion there was no doubt, and the realisation was evident as his eyes teared up while sitting at the changeover which ended with him sobbing into his towel.
At his post-match press conference, he was to expand on that moment.
“So many different emotions,” he said, “What I said on the ceremony, I really mean it. 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.
“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.
“Yeah, it was just wonderful.”
For many Djokovic’s bid to make history became the focal point of this year’s US Open but as it turned out, it proved to be Medvedev’s day.
Throughout the fortnight, Djokovic was seen to struggle before progressing especially in the latter stages where he regularly dropped at least one set. But he always recovered his poise and his experience helped him through the sticky patches.
In the final that pattern of losing the opening set in his previous four matches was again enacted, but on this occasion, there was no recovery.
Ironically perhaps, but it was Medvedev who launched Djokovic on his Calendar Grand Slam bid when the Russian lost in straight sets in Melbourne. To now find himself book-ending the bid must have felt rather incongruous for the Muscovite.
Medvedev certainly learnt a lesson by on this occasion, hammering in his serves and keeping the pressure on by holding with ease against one of the great returners in the game.
In contrast Djokovic’s serves and shots just had no bite on them, and he appeared flat as he struggled to find an answer to the onslaught, both physically and mentally.
Up two sets, Medvedev continued the rout in the third going up 5-1 before Djokovic got some life into his own game.
Medvedev got to match point serving at 5-2 but then a pair of consecutive double faults a pair of double faults denied him the championship and it was at this stage that the crowd, which include Rod Laver, started to make their emotional contribution by showing they favoured his challenge.
Djokovic held and Medvedev earned himself another chance at 5-4 to bring the final to a close only to deliver another double fault before completing his task to become this year’s US Open champion in what should the first of many grand slam titles.
“A lot of happiness. That’s my first Grand Slam,” Medvedev said on court. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel if I win a second one or third one. That’s my first one, so I’m really happy. Means a lot to me.”
Turning to Djokovic, he continued, “I never said this to anybody, but I’ll say it right now. For me, you are the greatest player in history.
“It definitely makes it sweeter,” Medvedev added. “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.”
“He had a lot of pressure,” Medvedev admitted. “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.”
Medvedev also divulged to suffering nerves and some cramping late in the final.
“Started cramping at 5-3, I think because of the pressure at 5-2 where I had match points, I didn’t make it,” Medvedev revealed. “My legs were gone after 5-3. At 5-4, left leg, I almost couldn’t walk. If you really look at the replay, when I walked to the towel, my leg was just going behind. I was trying not to show it. If Novak sees it, it’s not good.
“Again, 40-15, that’s two match points. I was like, C’mon, go for an ace, just try to make it. I had a huge double-fault. Second one was like in the middle of the net. Okay, I have one more. Just try to make a first serve. I made it and I’m really happy.”
Djokovic, who smashed his racket in frustration at 2 all in the second set, readily admits his performance had been poor.
“I was just below par with my game. My legs were not there. I was trying. I did my best,” he admitted. “I made a lot of unforced errors.
“So just one of these days where unfortunately, yeah, wasn’t meant to be.”
Djokovic, who had won 12 of his last 14 Grand Slam finals, added: “Of course I’m disappointed with the overall game that I performed today. I know I could have and should have done better. But it’s sport, you know. You win some, you lose some. It’s a tough loss, very tough loss. But at the same time, I’m happy for him because he’s a nice guy and he deserves it. He really does.”
A NextGen player has finally struck and while it is too early to say it is the start of a new era, it certainly is the opening salvo.
“Transition is inevitable, but us older guys, we are still there,” Djokovic reminded everyone at his press conference.
“I want to keep going and try to win more Slams and play for my country, those are the things that motivate me the most at this point.
“But I think tennis is in good hands.”