Djokovic Goes The Distance To Reach US Open Final, Medvedev Next

Novak Djokovic (photo: Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Friday evening’s US Open semifinal match featuring top seed Novak Djokovic chasing history against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev provided the sell-out crowd that packed Arthur Ashe Stadium with everything they could have imagined – 273 points spread out over five sets. One of those points, that came late in the third set, turned into a breathtaking back-and-forth 53-shot rally.

That the tussle between the World No. 1 from Serbia and the Olympic gold medalist from Germany went the distance wasn’t too surprising. However, by the time the last point was decided three hours and 33 minutes after Djokovic served the first of his 12 aces to begin the semifinal, both players had spent their mind and body.

It was Djokovic who pulled through in the end and won 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 for his 27th consecutive major victory to move to within one win of capturing his fourth US Open title and 21st major crown, which would break the tie for most career major titles he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Each has won 20.

On Sunday afternoon, the World No. 1 Djokovic will play World No. 2 and second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who earlier defeated No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, in two hours and four minutes. It will be the ninth head-to-head meeting between Djokovic and Medvedev, who will be trying to win his first major title.

While Zverev ended Djokovic’s hope of a Golden Slam by beating Djokovic in the semifinals of the this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, Djokovic’s victory kept alive his pursuit of winning a calendar-year Grand Slam, something last done by Rod Laver in 1969. He’s already captured the year’s first three majors at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon Championships.

“I know that people would like to hear me talk about it but there is not much to talk about,” Djokovic said of his chase for the calendar-year Grand Slam during his post-match interview with ESPN‘s Patrick McEnroe on court. “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.”

At the outset, Djokovic lost the opening set for the 10th time this year at a major and it was cause for concern when one considers Zverev’s recent victory over Djokovic in Tokyo coupled with coming into Friday’s semifinal riding a career-best 16-match winning streak. However, Djokovic rallied after his first-set wobble. He won the next two sets and entered the fourth set with momentum in his favor. But Zverev wasn’t ready to toss in the towel. Instead, he came back to level the match at a set each. It meant taking it to a decider, where Djokovic was 35-10 in five-setters and Zverev 16-9.

As the match hit the three-hour mark with total points won at 117 each, just after the start of the fifth set, Djokovic suddenly gained new life. For the fourth time in his quest for the Grand Slam, Djokovic would need to go the distance to win but he seemed up for the task at hand. The determined look on his face during the final minutes spoke volumes.

He broke Zverev’s serve for a 2-0 advantage. Then, as Djokovic consolidated the break with his 10th ace to go ahead 3-0, the finish line seemed to come into focus. Now, Zverev would have to come up with a magical solution to reverse the tide and save the match. It didn’t happen in the forth game as Zverev air mailed an easy overhead lob while facing break point. Djokovic consolidated the break at love for an insurmountable 5-0 lead. Then, with the semifinal match on his racquet, the Serbian was broken and Zverev held. Finally, ahead 5-2, Djokovic put the match away in his next and final service game.

Djokovic finished with 41 winners to 49 unforced errors and converted five of eight break-point chances against Zverev, who hit 49 winners and committed 50 unforced errors. He broke Djokovic three times in 12 opportunities. Djokovic outpointed Zverev 140-133.

The 34-year-old Serbian simply refused to lose. He and Zverev, 10 years junior in age, shared a warm embrace at the net. Afterward, in addressing the crowd during the post-match interview, Djokovic said: “I’d like to say thank you because the atmosphere was amazing. The best atmosphere of the tournament so far.

“These are the moments we live for, these are the kind of unique opportunities that we dream of every day when we wake up and try to find the motivation to go out there. It pays off when you are playing in this beautiful stadium with this atmosphere.”

Medvedev’s serving prowess powers past Auger-Aliassime

Meanwhile, if one is looking for a difference between winning and losing in the first men’s semifinal match, between World No. 2 Medvedev and No. 15 Auger-Aliassime, who was trying to join fellow Canadian Leylah Fernandez by reaching the title match, look no further than the Russian’s serving prowess.

Medvedev served 12 aces and won 81 percent (48 of 59) of his first serve points. Additionally, he converted five of five break points against Auger-Aliassime. En route to Sunday’s final, Medvedev haslost just one set all tournament – the third set of his quarterfinal win against Botic van de Zandschulp.

“I don’t think I played my best today,” said Medvedev, who has reached his third major final and second at the US Open in three years, “but I am happy to be in the final on Sunday.”

Up a set, Medvedev turned around a 2-5 deficit against Auger-Aliassime, in which he saved set points while the Canadian was serving for the second set at 5-3, and went on to win five consecutive games. It took the wind out of his opponent’s sails.

“In the second set, I think everyone felt it was going to be one-set-all, and you never know when the match is going to go. I managed to save set points … and the match turned around completely,” he said.

Medvedev broke Auger-Aliassime twice in the final set to put the match out of reach. He outpointed Auger-Aliassime 104-73 and hit 37 winners to 25 unforced errors. The Canadian finished with 17 winners and made 39 unforced errors. He also racked up 10 double faults on his serve – three of them in the opening game of the match.

No doubt, Auger-Aliassime will learn from his defeat and bounce back. He knows his turn will eventually come. The Canadian will rise to 11th in the new ATP rankings on Monday. His fall season ahead will include playing for Team World at the Laver Cup in Boston later this month.

“I feel like I deserve to be in that position,” he said. “I work for that. Now, I need to keep pushing in the right direction so I go even a little bit higher.”

Ram/Salisbury win first US Open doubles title

Fourth seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury rallied from a set down to win the US Open men’s doubles title. The American/British duo beat 2016 US Open champions Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, in an hour and 44 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday afternoon.

Ram and Salisbury, who saved four matches points against Australian duo Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell in their quarterfinal win, won 78 percent (36 of 46) of their first-serve points. They outpointed Murray and Soares 84-68. It was their second win in two tries against the British/Brazilian pair.

“They turned it around pretty well,” Murray said, speaking on his and Soares’ behalf during the trophy ceremony after the match. “We lost momentum at the start of the second set and the match changed a lot. We are really proud with how we competed this week and are looking forward to the future.”

During the trophy ceremony, Salisbury, who is going for a “doubles double” (he’s into the finals of the mixed doubles with American Desirae Krawczyk), said: “It is just amazing to be out here. It was my first time playing on Arthur Ashe and to be playing in front of such an amazing crowd, it was a great atmosphere. It made it such a fun match.

“To have won this with Rajeev is amazing; it is a dream come true. For the past three years, he has been an incredible partner. I couldn’t ask to be beside anyone better on court. We look forward to getting some more titles together.”

Ram returned the praise and gave thanks to Salisbury, with whom they won the Australian Open in 2020 and recently garnered their first ATP Masters 1000 title as a team at Toronto. Since reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, they’ve won 11 of their past 12 matches. They are now 2-1 as a team in major finals.

“I can’t ask for a better partner,” Ram said. “We got together three years ago and didn’t know each other that well, but it has been the most unbelievable run. Joe is amazing. I really appreciate you and everything we have done together.”

Youth versus experience in women’s doubles final

American teenagers Coco Gauff, 17, and Caty McNally, 19, advanced to their first major final against tour veterans Samantha Stosur, 37, of Australia and Zhang Shuai, 32, of China, who have previously won one major doubles title. The two seeded teams have yet to lose a set. On Sunday afternoon, they will play for the US Open women’s doubles title on Arthur Ashe Stadium before the start of the men’s singles final.

The No. 11 seeds Gauff and McNally were tied 6-6 in the opening set against No. 5 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Luisa Stefani of Brazil on Louis Armstrong Stadium. However, the match ended abruptly after Stefani turned her leg mid-point and fell in pain. While Stefani tried to walk off the court, she eventually had to be taken off in a wheelchair.

Gauff and McNally had rallied from a break down before the match ended prematurely.

During a post-match interview on court, Gauff said: “For me, I don’t want to win a match like this. Luisa’s so nice and I cannot watch that again because it’s so hard to see another opponent finish a match like that. … I wish her the best wishes, and as an athlete, you know how an injury like that is just heartbreaking, and I think that we should just all come together and support her.”

McNally expressed a similar sentiment as her teammate: “Luisa’s such a great doubles player, and as a team they’re difficult to play. I think this match was going to be such a great match, anyone could have taken the first set. I hope that she’s okay and that she’ll recover quick, and it’s never the way you want to win.”

Meanwhile, the No. 14 seeds Stosur and Zhang, who won the 2019 Australian Open title, have strung together 10 straight wins including a title victory at the WTA 1000 Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. They reached the US Open final – their second major final – with a 72-minute 6-2, 7-5 victory over No. 7 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk of the United States.

Stosur will be going after her second US Open doubles trophy. She won her first one 16 years ago with American Lisa Raymond. The Australian is chasing after her fifth Grand Slam title overall. She owns three major doubles title and won the 2011 US Open singles crown.

Friday’s US Open results

Saturday’s US Open order of play

Around the US Open

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic will compete in his 31st major final on Sunday, which ties him with Roger Federer for the all-time record. He will also contest his ninth US Open final, which breaks a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl for the Open Era record.

Felix Auger-Aliassime became the first Canadian men’s semifinalist in US Open history, and the youngest men’s semifinalist since Juan Martín del Potro of Argentina in 2009. Del Potro won the US Open championship that year. Reaching the semifinals is the Canadian’s best performance in a major.

• When Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain face Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, it marked the first time in the Open Era that two Britons met in a major men’s doubles final and the first time in 12 years that the US Open men’s doubles final went to a deciding set.

“Quotable …”

“It’s tough to lose. At the same time, I mean, I’ve always tried to accept the reality in my career. As much as I would have wanted to win today, I didn’t. Now I need to accept the reality, which is I lost. I can do better, and for sure I will.

“Now it’s time to rest and get back to work. That’s all I can do really. But, of course, it’s a positive week. It could have been different. In the end things are moving in the right direction.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime, 21, of Canada, looking back on his semifinal run at this year’s US Open.