Novak Djokovic has reached the final of the US Open where one player now stands between him and that history making Calendar Grand Slam which would be the first since Rod Laver’s achievement in 1968 and fourth by a male player, Laver having also recorded one in 1962 and Don Budge in 1938.
He has 20 slams, going for the Calendar Slam, it’s not a must, but I want to do it even more. That’s normal. The more you lose something, the more you want to win it, the more you want to gain it and take it. I lost two finals. I want to win the third one. That’s tennis, we have two players, only one going to win. You never know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to try more than I did the first two times Daniil Medvedev
The Serb world number one has been tested for the past fortnight and has always come through, not least in the semi-final against Alexander Zverev, who ousted him from the Tokyo Olympics where Djokovic was aiming for a Gold Medal, and then claim it for himself. As Olympic champion the German then proceeded to extend his winning streak to 16 matches, including the Cincinnati Masters title, so much was expected of the pair when they met in Flushing Meadows.
And tennis fans wouldn’t have been disappointed, especially those in the Serbian camp, as the top seed was forced to dig deep to not only avenge that Tokyo loss, but edge closer to achieving what he hopes will be the last piece of the jigsaw to establish himself as the GOAT of tennis – the Greatest Of All Time.
“I know that people would like to hear me talk about it but there is not much to talk about,” Djokovic said after the three-and-half-hour match. “There is only one match left, all in. I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head into that one. I’m going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career.”
While he had outlasted Zverev 4-6 6-2 6-4 4-6 6-2 he has shown frailities which can be capitalised on, but he has also shown one of his greatest strengths, namely his ability to turn matches around thanks to his mental strength, and of course his undeniable talent.
On this occasion and for the fourth time at the tournament and 10th time this year, Djokovic dropped the opening set in rather quick and routine fashion while Zverev’s highly improved serve was on song again as he looked set to continue his unbeaten run.
But as in his previous matches, Djokovic rose to the occasion breaking Zverev early in the second to run away with the set, the first dropped by Zverev during the tournament, and it was much of the same in the third with Zverev struggling to maintain a high level on serve while Djokovic cruised through his service games with relative ease except for the 10th game.
Djokovic serving at 4-5, the duo played a series of incredible points, capped by the longest rally of the event totalling 53 shots which was won by Zverev only for the fourth seeded German to lose the next point and then go two-set-to-one down.
Zverev levelled to force a fifth and deciding set where again, momentum would swing in favour of Djokovic who overwhelmed his 24-year-old challenger and sweep into a 5-0 lead with Zverev just preventing himself being bageled, but he couldn’t halt what seems to be Djokovic’s march towards his destiny.
“It was a great battle. Kind of a little bit disappointed with the start of the fifth set,” Zverev admitted. “To be honest, apart from that, it was a good match. I think we both left it all out there.
“The second break in the fifth set was so ridiculously unlucky but it sometimes happens. But he’s No. 1 in the world for a reason and he showed that tonight.
“I think mentally he’s the best player to ever play the game. Mentally in the most important moments I would rather play against anybody else but him.”
In his run to the final, Djokovic has only played one three-set match while Daniil Medvedev, the Russian world number two, has only been extended to one four-setter the entire tournament and consequently should be the fresher of the two when the step out to decide who will become this year’s champion.
Earlier in the day Medvedev had beaten Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4 7-5 6-2 in what was another comfortable victory requiring just over two hours of effort as the 21-year-old Canadian failed to convert his chances, especially in the second set where he held a set point when serving at 5-3 by dumping a volley. From that point Medvedev took full advantage claiming 10 of the next 12 games.
“Tough match, especially second set was crucial,” Medvedev admitted. “Second set defined the match because I was really close to lose it. Many times you’re going to lose a break against such an opponent as Felix, he had set points on his serve, you’re going to lose a set. We can never know now how the match would go. Could be completely different story, being one set all, would be the first time for me in the tournament.”
Auger-Aliassime, who was playing his first major semi-final, acknowledges he is still learning.
“I think Daniil was the better player today on the court for sure,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It still shows things that I can improve in every aspect of my game. I had to play my best level and even better if I wanted to get a chance to win today. I didn’t do it long enough. I think, yeah, overall Daniil was the better player.”
Medvedev has promised to give his all in Sunday’s final in what will be their ninth meeting of which he has only won three, but with so much at stake for both players (the Russian chasing his first title at grand slam level) a high-level contest can be expected.
“It’s going to be more interesting in terms of tactic what I’m going to prepare,” Medvedev, who lost to the Serb in the Australian Open final. admitted ahead of Sunday’s meeting. “I think the thing that I understand, I always give my best, but I feel like I didn’t leave my heart on the court in Melbourne. Even if of course I wanted to, there was something not turning up this match.
“He has 20 slams, going for the Calendar Slam, it’s not a must, but I want to do it even more. That’s normal. The more you lose something, the more you want to win it, the more you want to gain it and take it. I lost two finals. I want to win the third one. That’s tennis, we have two players, only one going to win. You never know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to try more than I did the first two times.”