An emotional Novak Djokovic felt relief and sadness after his Grand Slam dream died with a US Open final defeat, overcome by loss but winning heartfelt support from New York fans.
World No. 1 Djokovic missed the first calendar-year Slam since 1969 at the final hurdle Sunday, losing to Russia’s second-ranked Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in Arthur Ashe Stadium. “Relief. I was glad it was over,” Djokovic said about his feelings in the moments after the defeat
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2021
Djokovic has surpassed his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in many aspects of the game but has been constantly reminded that, in terms of popularity, he occupies a distant third place.
The 20-time major champion was trying, in one fell swoop, to become the first male winner of the Grand Slam since the great Rod Laver in 1969 and to pass legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the all-time Grand Slam titles list.
Waking up at 20-20-20 pic.twitter.com/aKmk2gexuC
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 13, 2021
Daniil Medvedev No. 2 seed delivered a performance for the ages, blasting out of the barriers and seizing on every opportunity as he notched a stirring 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory to claim his maiden Grand Slam title.
“He came out very determined on the court,” Djokovic told reporters after the final, tipping his cap to the first-time Slam winner. “You could feel that he was just at the highest of his abilities in every shot. He had a lot of clarity on what he needs to do tactically. He has executed it perfectly.”
After falling to Djokovic in his only two Grand Slam matches against the Serb, including this year’s Australian Open final where he only managed to win nine games, Medvedev had ominously warned the world that he’d be bringing different energy into Sunday’s final.
“I feel like I didn’t leave my heart on the court in Melbourne,” he told reporters after waltzing past Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semifinals on Friday. “That’s what I’m going to try to do on Arthur Ashe with hopefully 100 per cent of fans. No matter the score, I’m just going to turn up the heat.”
The 25-year-old Russian kept his word and produced a vintage serving performance that kept Djokovic on the back foot from the first ball of the contest.
Soak it in, @DaniilMedwed.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) September 12, 2021
Long after the final, Medvedev told reporters that earning the victory over Djokovic made his first Grand Slam triumph even more special.
“It definitely makes it sweeter,” he said. “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.”
Medvedev won all fifteen of his first-serve points in the opening set and rifled eight aces, never facing a breakpoint.
The 34-year-old Djokovic, seeking his 21st major title in his 31st Grand Slam final appearance, opened windows for himself in the second set, but Medvedev slammed them shut, saving five break points in the first two games to stay on serve, before breaking critically for 3-2.
The Arthur Ashe crowd, dotted with A-list celebrities who had come to witness a slice of tennis history, instead were treated to a Medvedev coronation. The Russian won over the fans when he pushed Rafael Nadal to the brink in the 2019 US Open final, and on Sunday he proved that he is no longer just a title contenderーhe’s the real deal.
The Medvedev freight train would not be derailed on Sunday in Flushing Meadows. He rambled through the third set, quickly securing a double-break lead before closing out Djokovic’s magnificent Grand Slam season in two hours and 16 minutes.