Grand Slam Denied, Medvedev Makes His Own History At US Open

Daniil Medvedev (photo: Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

When Novak Djokovic walked out on Arthur Ashe Stadium to play in the US Open men’s singles final Sunday afternoon, with history ready to be written, there were two possible outcomes.

One, the World No. 1 from Serbia seals his greatness with a victory over second seed Daniil Medvedev that would also be his 21st major title and break the tie for most career men’s singles majors currently shared with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Each has 20.

The other, he falls every so agonizingly short of his goal of winning the calendar-year Grand Slam and the gangly World No. 2 from Russia with the menacing game and smirky smile wins his first major title.

With tennis fans filling 25,703-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium all weekend long in New York and watching by the millions worldwide, they’ve already witnessed history in the US Open women’s final, with Emma Raducanu becoming the first qualifier in the Open Era to win a major title. Now, it was the men’s turn to write history. Among the celebrities in attendance Sunday were actors Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper and Alec Baldwin, filmmaker Spike Lee, and tennis greats Andy Roddick, Tracy Austin and Kim Clijsters.

Over the course of two hours and 15 minutes, as it turned out, it became history denied. Or, as Christopher Clarey, the esteemed tennis correspondent for The New York Times wrote on Twitter: “Grand slammed.”

The 34-year-old Djokovic, arguably the best returner on the men’s tour – if not the world – broke Medvedev’s serve just once. It wasn’t enough as the 6-foot-6-inch Russian bear seized upon opportunity after opportunity by peppering 125 mile-per-hour serves here and dominating ground-stroke returns there. He smothered Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to win his first major title and deny the Serbian of winning his 21st, which would have given him the calendar-year Grand Slam he so dearly coveted.

Prior to Sunday, two men’s players, Don Budge of the United States and Australia’s Rod Laver, had made history as the holders of a calendar-year grand slam – winning the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in a calendar year. In fact, Laver did it twice, once as an amateur and the second time as a pro, in 1969. Others have come close over the past 52 years since Laver, but have fallen at the US Open. Some, like Djokovic’s contemporaries and future Hall of Famers Federer, 40, and Nadal, 35, have not been able to do it. Now, Djokovic will have to go back to square one and try again.

“First of all, I want to say sorry for you fans and Novak. We all know what he was going for today,” Medvedev, 25, said during the trophy ceremony. “I’ve never said this [to] anybody, but I will say it right now. For me, you are the greatest tennis player in history.”

It drew tremendous applause from the full house that filled Arthur Ashe Stadium that earlier during the match had been raucous at times, cheering for both players.

The enigmatic Medvedev, whose calm and patient demeanor served him well throughout the championship final, became the third Russian man to win a major, joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1996 French Open, 1999 Australian Open) and Marat Safin (2000 US Open, 2005 Australian Open).

As for the match itself, Medvedev vowed to take the fight to Djokovic and he did just that. He was lights out in the opening set, winning 100 percent (15 of 15) of his first-serve points – including eight aces – to win it 6-4. It was Djokovic’s fifth straight match in the tournament that he’d lost the first set. From the time he dropped serve in the opening game of the match, he appeared in trouble. One wondered if Medvedev could sustain his remarkable serving display.

As it turned out, Medvedev did. He continued to dominate the dazed and confused Djokovic in the second set, winning 6-4 after breaking in the fifth game for a 3-2 advantage and consolidating it in his next service game. By the end of what turned out to the be the middle set, the Serbian was 12 for 31 in second-serve points and zero-for-five in break point chances – and Medvedev was definitely the steadier of the two players and not the usually-fluid Djokovic, who seemed to have lost the magic that enabled him to win the first three majors of the season and was favored to win this year’s US Open to complete the Grand Slam.

In a complete reversal of Djokovic’s straight-set Australian Open victory against the Russian, Medvedev has positioned himself just like Stefanos Tsitsipas did in this year’s French Open final. However, unlike the rising Greek star who crumbled under the pressure of the big moment and lost in five sets, Medvedev, like a chess Grandmaster, was able to close out Djokovic in straight sets. He never really allowed the 20-time major champion to come back and have a realistic chance at winning major number 21. Although Djokovic had come back from 0-2 down in sets six times, most recently at Roland Garros three months ago, this time there would be no comeback – no miracle. Just shattered dreams and a few broken racquet strings, too.

Djokovic became so frustrated at how things were faring for him in the second set that after he slipped in breaking Medvedev’s serve in his first two return games – including squandering a love-40 opportunity in his first return game – Djokovic lost his cool and smashed his racquet. He never was quite the same. By the final change over, with his fate all but determined, the TV cameras caught the three-time US Open champion visibly shakened and crying in his towel. His game was off just enough that there would be no chance of a fifth-set comeback like Paris. There wouldn’t even be a fourth set.

Medvedev double-faulted on his first championship points at 5-2 in the third set and later was broken for the first time, then double-faulted again on his next match point. He finally served out the match, then fell to the court in celebration after Djokovic netted a backhand return. When the two worthy competitors met at the net, they shared a lengthy hug and both smiled at each other. All was good between them.

Medvedev’s title triumph was his 14th and reversed his fortune of two years ago when he lost the 2019 US Open final to Nadal in five sets. His victory ended Djokovic’s 27-match major winning streak going back to the start of this year’s Australian Open back at Melbourne in February.

The final statistics bore out Medvedev’s domination of Djokovic. He finished with 16 aces and hit 38 winners while committing 31 unforced errors. Medvedev won 81 percent (42 of 52) of his first-serve points and back it by winning 58 percent (22 of 38) of his second-serve points. He saved five of the six break points he faced while converting four of eight against Djokovic. The Serbian finished with just six aces and hit 27 winners to 38 unforced errors. Medvedev outpointed his opponent 99-83.

During the trophy presentation, Djokovic tried to remain upbeat but it wasn’t always easy for him. In addressing the crowd, he said: “I would like to say that tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with job and I’m the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel very special. You guys touched my soul. I’ve never felt like this in New York. …

I love you guys. Thank you so much for the support and everything you have done tonight for me. I love you and I’ll see you soon.”

Djokovic proved to be a tough act to follow on the podium, something which Medvedev acknowledged. “I want to thank you guys,” he said. “Today, maybe you were a little bit more for Novak, but that’s completely understandable. Throughout the week, you gave me a lot of energy, starting from 2019, long ago. It helped me ’til today. It was not easy, but thanks a lot.”

Later, during his news conference, Medvedev admitted there was a special feeling he got from beating Djokovic to win his first major.

“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.”

And, finally, a happy ending to the final for Medvedev, who revealed during the trophy ceremony that he and his wife, Daria, were celebrating their third wedding anniversary. The $2.5 million first-prize money certainly will make a nice anniversary gift.

Stosur and Zhang win women’s doubles title

Australia’s Samantha Stosur is an eight-time Grand Slam champion with titles that span 16 years. Stosur achieved fame by winning the US Open women’s singles title in 2011. Now, 10 years later, she and Zhang Shuai of China won the US Open women’s doubles title with their 6-3, 3-6, 7-3 victory over Americans Coco Gauff, 17, and Caty McNally, 19, in one hour and 55 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Both teams came into the final without having dropped a set. En route to winning the title, Stosur and Zhang beat four seeded teams. Gauff and McNally were the first teenagers to the reach the final at Flushing Meadows since 2013.

The victory was the 11th straight for Stosur, 37, and Zhang, 32, who earlier during the US Open Series won the women’s doubles title at the WTA 1000 Western & Southern Open. Previously, they won their first major title at the 2019 Australian Open after first teaming together in 2013.

For Stosur, who last year became the mother of a daughter with her partner, she’s won four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles – two in New York, the first with Lisa Raymond in 2005, and the 2006 French Open, also with Raymond, and two with Zhang. Stosur also has garnered three mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.

“It’s just a phenomenal feeling to have this trophy again 16 years later,” Stosur said during her team’s news conference. “Winning the singles here, I’ve got so many amazing memories here playing in New York. I love coming back here, I love the courts, I love the atmosphere. Yeah, obviously a very special place for me.

“It’s brought out some of my best tennis in my career over obviously many, many years. This year has been tough for everyone. This is the last two days of a trip that’s going to be four months for me away from home. I haven’t done that for a long, long time. To be going home with this trophy just means the absolute world to me.

“It makes everything worth it. Yeah, I’m so proud to have Shuai as my partner. Like she said, we certainly bring out the best of each other on and off the court. Yeah, it’s a really special title for both of us.”

Meanwhile, Gauff said that Sunday’s defeat was “obviously not the result that we wanted, but we were there.

“I think the match was decided within, like, three or four points. I think for next time we know how to do better on those points I guess.

“Our opponents, Shuai and Sam, played a great match. There’s a reason why they’ve both had a couple Grand Slams, great results in Grand Slams.

“Hopefully next time we can play them in a final and we’ll be on a different situation.”

De Groot achieves wheelchair Golden Slam

World No. 1 Diede de Groot, 24, of the Netherlands became the first wheelchair competitor – man or woman – to win a Golden Slam. The top-seeded De Groot, who earlier this year won women’s singles wheelchair majors at the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon as well as the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics, beat Japan’s No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji, 6-3, 6-2, in an hour and 11 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

On winning the Golden Slam, de Groot said: “I think for a long time it wasn’t possible because Wimbledon didn’t have a singles event. For a few years now they’ve had it, five years now. Yeah, it’s just great to see the tour and the professionalism going up each year I guess.

“It’s just great to see how so many things are possible. To be the first one to actually get that title is just so special. I don’t think I will ever forget that.”

Alcott chases history, wins quad singles Golden Slam

As Australian quad singles star Dylan Alcott chased after history, he faced a first-time Grand Slam finalist Sunday after on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Like Diede de Groot earlier in the day, Alcott won a Golden Slam, too.

The 30-year-old World No. 1 and top seed in the quad singles competition, faced 18-year-old Niels Vink of the Netherlands, who in the the run-up to the title match beat defending champion Sam Schroder of the Netherlands in the quarterfinals and two-time US Open champion Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain in the semifinals. Alcott beat Vink, 7-5, 6-2, in an hour and 13 minutes to capture his 15 career major title.

Alcott came in with a 5-0 head-to-head lead against Vink, including a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win en route to winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics last week.

“I just can’t believe I’ve just won the Golden Slam,” Alcott said during the trophy ceremony. “I used to hate myself so much. I hated my disability. I didn’t even want to be here anymore and I found tennis and it changed and saved my life. Now to become the only male ever in any form of tennis to win the Golden Slam is pretty cool.”

Kunieda wins men’s wheelchair singles

No. 1 seed Shinto Kunieda of Japan defeated No. 2 seed and longtime rival Alfie Hewett of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-4, in an hour and 11 minutes to win the men’s singles wheelchair title. The title match was played on Court 11.

In their 10th career head-to-head meeting and third this year, Kunieda stopped a two-match losing streak to Hewett, who beat the Japanese start in the final of the French Open last June. It was Kunieda’s seventh career victory over Hewett.

“Today’s performance was my best including Paralympics,” Kunieda said. “Yes, even I was very tired, but I could play my best. I’m proud about it.”

Sunday’s US Open results

By the numbers

Daniil Medvedev lost just one set – in his quarterfinal win over Botic van de Zandschulp – en route to winning the US Open title. Since 2018, he leads the ATP Tour in hard-court titles (12), finals (17) and wins (147).

• More Medvedev: He becomes the ninth first-time champion at the US Open since Juan Martín del Potro beat Roger Federer in five sets to win the 2009 final.

• Of the six players who have won the first three major titles of the same season in the Open era (since 1968), Novak Djokovic became the third to fall short in an attempt to win the Grand Slam. The others: Martina Navratilova (1984) and Serena Williams (2015). Rod Laver (1969) is the last man to win a calendar-year Grand Slam. Steffi Graf (1988) is the last woman to achieve the feat.

“Quotable …”

“A lot of people don’t know this, but Sam you were my first autograph.”

Coco Gauff of the United States, 17, on court during the women’s doubles trophy ceremony, congratulating Australia’s Samantha Stosur, 37.

“Thanks so much to everybody involved here at the US Open, it’s such an awesome event, to all the sponsors and everybody that makes it happen. Thank you for putting us on stadium courts, changing my life, changing Niels’ life, but hopefully changing the lives of millions of people with disability around the world [so] that they can see themselves on the big stage doing what they love.”

– Golden Slam winner Dylan Alcott, 30, who won the wheelchair quad singles title Sunday.