NEW YORK — Daniil Medvedev knew whichever way Sunday’s U.S. Open final turned out, he was going to make it into the history books either either as a footnote in Novak Djokovic’s conquering of the elusive Grand Slam or the man who stopped it from happening.
And when the 25-year old Russian got his opportunity Sunday to determine which one would be his destiny, he did not miss.
After coming heartbreakingly close two years ago at the U.S. Open against Rafael Nadal and then failing miserably in his first shot at Djokovic in a Grand Slam final earlier this year in Australia, Medvedev finally broke through for his first major title, defeating Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Medvedev became the first member of the 20-something generation to defeat one of tennis’ so-called Big Three including Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer in a Grand Slam final. In doing so, he stopped Djokovic’s quest to win all four majors in the same calendar year, something no man had accomplished since Rod Laver in 1969.
After his wins earlier in the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, Djokovic remains stuck on 20 majors, tied with Nadal and Federer for the most in history.
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Though Medvedev had not yet beaten Djokovic on the biggest stage, his victory could not be considered a total surprise. Medvedev, in fact, had beaten Djokovic three of the past five times they played, including a come-from-behind win in the 2019 Cincinnati semifinals that served as his slingshot to prominence and eventually the No. 2 ranking.
What Medvedev hadn’t done is beat Djokovic at a Grand Slam, but he vowed to give a better effort this time than in Australia, where he lost a close first set 7-5 and seemed to let down emotionally thereafter.
“If I play Novak, he has 20 Slams, going for the (Grand) Slam, it’s not a must, but I want to do it even more. That’s normal,” Medvedev said after beating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semifinals. “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.”
Medvedev made good on that promise against Djokovic, who said after his five-set semifinal win over Alexander Zverev that he was approaching the U.S. Open final as if it was the last match he would ever play.
But perhaps the stakes of the moment finally caught up with him after a drama-filled U.S. Open run in which 20-year old American Jenson Brooksby, Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini and Zverev all pushed him physically and emotionally in the previous three rounds.
By the final, Djokovic had already spent 17 hours, 26 minutes on the court in six matches compared to 11 hours, 51 minutes for Medvedev. That difference may have ultimately been decisive.