When Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic met in the Australian Open final in February, many believed Medvedev had what it would take to dethrone Djokovic at his best tournament. Medvedev was on a 20-match win streak that included a straight-sets win over Djokovic, and he had won three of their previous four matches.
The highly anticipated final fizzled.
After a competitive first set, Medvedev proved hapless in a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 loss, which gave Djokovic his ninth Australian Open title and the first leg of a possible Grand Slam.
After winning his U.S. Open semifinal on Friday, Medvedev said he had been caught off guard in the Australian Open match when Djokovic used unexpected tactics.
“He was playing different than the matches he did before with me, and I was kind of not ready for it,” said Medvedev, who until Sunday had not faced Djokovic since that match. “So now, I am.”
Medvedev said he had been disappointed by his effort with the Australian Open title on the line, and suggested his flatness might have been influenced by the pandemic restrictions at the tournament, which limited crowd size.
“I always give my best, but I feel like I didn’t leave my heart on the court in Melbourne,” he said. “Even if, of course, I wanted to, there was something not turning up in this match.
“That’s what I’m going to try to do on Arthur Ashe with, hopefully, 100 percent of the fans,” he added. “No matter the score, I’m just going to turn up the heat and try to do my best, even more than what I did in Melbourne.”
As Novak Djokovic bids for a Grand Slam, he can take encouragement from two other players who were able to pull off the feat on Sunday.
Diede de Groot of the Netherlands won the wheelchair women’s singles title to complete a Golden Slam, winning all four majors and Paralympic gold.
De Groot defeated Yui Kamiji of Japan, 6-3, 6-2, in Louis Armstrong Stadium to complete the Slam, which has been possible in wheelchair tennis only since 2016, when Wimbledon introduced a singles competition.
De Groot, 24, thanked the U.S. Open for showcasing her final in one of its biggest stadiums.
“That’s the kind of attitude that we need as wheelchair tennis players: to play on the big stage, play our singles match on Armstrong, that’s just such a professional move,” de Groot said. “Those kind of things are needed for us as players to keep improving as well.”
“I think it motivates us,” she added. “We will work harder when people work harder for us.”
De Groot was followed into Armstrong by Dylan Alcott of Australia, who completed his own Golden Slam in quad singles, beating Niels Vink of the Netherlands, 7-5, 6-2.
Vink, 18, is one of the brightest young talents in wheelchair tennis, and he expressed contentment with his result, calling Alcott’s Golden Slam “insane.”
“Losing to the big boy, I’m happy with my second place,” Vink said.
Like De Groot, Alcott thanked organizers for putting the wheelchair finals on a major court.
“Hopefully changing the lives of millions of people with disabilities around the world, that they can see themselves on the big stage doing what they love, so thank you very much,” Alcott said.
After thanking a list of practically everyone he had ever met, Alcott’s voice began to crack with emotion.
“I just can’t believe I just won the Golden Slam,” he said, resting his head on the microphone as he collected himself. “I used to hate myself so much. I hated my disability, and I didn’t even want to be here anymore. And I found tennis, and it changed and saved my life. And now I’ve become the only male ever, in any form of tennis, to win the Golden Slam, which is pretty cool. I just want to thank everybody here in New York for coming out and supporting us.”
Alcott, 30, then hinted at retirement from the sport.
“I’m going to be upfront: I don’t know if I’ll be back here,” Alcott told the crowd. “So I really appreciate everything, I love you so much, and thanks for making a young, fat, disabled kid with a really bad haircut, thanks for making his dreams come true. Because I can’t believe that I just did it.”
Dylan Alcott, who just completed a Golden Slam in the wheelchair quad singles division, chugged a beer out of his U.S. Open trophy when he was shown on the screen in Ashe. Sets the bar fairly high for Djokovic’s possible celebration options tonight.
Novak Djokovic has gotten off to a cold start. He sprayed four unforced errors and made only 38 percent of his first serves in the first game, allowing Medvedev to break on his first opportunity for a 1-0 lead. Medvedev then quickly held. Djokovic found himself down 15-40 in Game 3, in danger of going down an early double break.
But after starting with a dreadful stat line of one winner and eight unforced errors, Djokovic found his focus and reeled off four straight winners to salvage a hold, the last two of which were aces.
Medvedev remains up a break at 2-1 in the first set, but Djokovic has arrived and settled in.
This crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium is getting a little restless with Djokovic’s start, with uneasy murmurs growing with a few easy, early mistakes. The crucial key word: early.
The prize money for this year’s U.S. Open was reconfigured to give a greater share to players who lost in the early rounds, but a decent chunk of change still awaits the men competing for the singles title on Sunday.
The champion will receive $2.5 million, while the runner-up receives $1.25 million.
Djokovic, 34, who has already earned a record $151.9 million in prize money in his career, also stands to gain more than $2.5 million in performance bonuses from his various sponsors if he completes the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1969.
Medvedev, 25, who has already banked a comfortable $17.3 million in prize money in his career, would also expect bigger pay days from sponsors if he becomes a rare player from his generation to break through for a major men’s title.
In 1973, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to pay men and women equal prize money; it took 34 years for Wimbledon to catch up and begin offering equal prize money in 2007.
The prize money at the Open made a bigger difference in Saturday’s final between the relative newcomers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, both of whom had under $1 million in career earnings before their totals were more than doubled by their Open windfalls.
But for both of the women — particularly for Raducanu, who can tap into huge marketplaces in both Britain and China with her fluent command of Mandarin — the money made off court is likely to dwarf the amounts on their checks from the Open.
Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic have followed very different paths to the U.S. Open final. Medvedev has only dropped one set, against the qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp in the quarterfinals. He has needed only 11 hours and 51 minutes on court to win six matches.
Djokovic, on the other hand, has dropped six sets in his six matches, which have taken 17 hours and 26 minutes. Only one of his wins came in straight sets, against Tallon Griekspoor in the second round.
Djokovic can justify some of his travails: He had a far tougher road in terms of opponents. He defeated the sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini in the quarterfinals and the fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.
Medvedev, 25, did not face a top-10 opponent before his meeting with Djokovic, 34. Medvedev, who embraced a villain role and sustained a quadriceps tear during his first final here in 2019, said he had a less eventful trip to the final this time.
“This year I didn’t have the stories, and that’s a good thing,” Medvedev said. “I have the experience of two finals of Slams that can help me — doesn’t mean it will — but can help me.”
He added, “The only thing I can say is all what I have left, I’m going to throw it out on Sunday.”
Ten years after winning the U.S. Open singles title, the Australian Samantha Stosur lifted a trophy here again on Sunday, with some help from a friend.
Stosur and Zhang Shuai of China defeated the American teens Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, to win the women’s doubles title in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Stosur, who stunned Serena Williams to become the 2011 U.S. Open singles champion, won her first women’s doubles title at the U.S. Open in 2005, when Gauff was only a year old.
Gauff, who fought back tears during the trophy ceremony, was pulled in for a consoling embrace by McNally during the pair’s remarks at the trophy ceremony.
Gauff’s mood brightened when she looked to Stosur and congratulated her on her victory.
“Sam, you were actually my first ever autograph from a professional tennis player,” Gauff said, laughing. “So playing a final against you was really cool.”
One story that may have been overlooked on Saturday, amid the excitement of Emma Raducanu’s U.S. Open women’s singles victory, was the combined success of Desirae Krawczyk of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Britain.
The pair won the mixed doubles championship, giving Krawczyk a third major mixed doubles title this year, one short of a Grand Slam.
The pair defeated Giuliana Olmos of Mexico and Marcelo Arevalo of Spain, 7-5, 6-2.
Krawczyk won this year’s French Open with Salisbury and Wimbledon with Neal Skupski. She is the seventh player, male or female, to win three major mixed doubles titles in the Open era, and the first since Martina Hingis and Leander Paes in 2015. The two other women to have done it were Martina Navratilova (1985) and Margaret Court (1969).
“Honestly, just to think about that, it’s just crazy to me,” said Krawczyk, who was born in Palm Desert, Calif., and played at Arizona State before turning professional. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. No, I’m just happy to be able to play in front of a lot of friends and family here and to play with Joe and have our whole team with us.”
Salisbury also won men’s doubles, with Rajeev Ram of the United States, and became the first man to win both events at the U.S. Open in the same year since Bob Bryan in 2010.
One interesting factor in Sunday’s final will be the fickle New York crowd, which has been far slower to embrace Djokovic than it has other legends of the game.
It remains to be seen whether the crowd will be more encouraging as he tries to defeat Daniil Medvedev and claim the first men’s calendar-year Grand Slam since 1969.
Djokovic, who is beloved in the Balkans and is also one of the most popular tennis players in China, has struggled to win over fans in countries where the major tennis tournaments are held.
Despite his nine titles in Australia, for example, he remains an object of national derision, as reflected in a game show earlier this year.
The crowd reception in Arthur Ashe Stadium has been mixed for Djokovic during this tournament, far inferior to the full-throated support that Serena Williams received during her Grand Slam bid in 2015.
“Obviously you always wish to have the crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible,” Djokovic said last week.
Djokovic said he thought the crowd was booing him during the first round here this year; spectators were actually enthusiastically chanting the surname of his opponent, Holger Rune.
“It was not an ideal atmosphere for me to tell you that,” Djokovic said. “But I’ve been in these particular atmospheres before, so I knew how to handle it.”
Daniil Medvedev was part of the ATP’s “NextGen” campaign, which began in 2017 with hopes of promoting the younger generation of men’s tennis stars who had yet to make major breakthroughs.
Four years later, the same guys have still been winning nearly all the major trophies, with Novak Djokovic, 34, maintaining the dominance he once shared with other members of the so-called Big 4: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray.
That group’s dominance, however, has led to extraordinary stagnation in the sport’s pipeline.
Only one man born in the 1990s, the 2020 U.S. Open champion, Dominic Thiem, has won a major singles title, and he did so after Djokovic was defaulted from that Open after inadvertently striking a line judge with a ball.
Thiem, who turned 28 this month, is hardly young for a tennis player, but he is the youngest active male player to have won a Grand Slam singles title.
That is in sharp contrast to women’s tennis, where on Saturday Emma Raducanu, 18, became the third player born in the 2000s to win a major.
Medvedev, who will try to defeat Djokovic in today’s Open final, would seem best positioned to make a breakthrough; this year he became the first man outside the “Big 4” to hold the ATP No. 2 ranking since 2005. But at 25, he is already a veteran by the standards of most generations.
Novak Djokovic is one match away from completing the Grand Slam in men’s singles for the first time since 1969, when Rod Laver did it in the first full year that major tournaments were open to professionals.
Few have come anywhere near that achievement in the decades since: When he won Wimbledon in July, Djokovic already became the first man since Laver to have won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. After winning his U.S. Open semifinal on Friday, Djokovic cited an interview where Kobe Bryant said he wasn’t happy about having taken a 3-1 lead in the N.B.A. Finals to explain his mind-set.
“That’s kind of an attitude I have; job is not done,” Djokovic said. “Excitement is there. Motivation is there, without a doubt, probably more than ever. But I have one more to go.”
By reaching the final, Djokovic has made it one step closer than Serena Williams’s Grand Slam bid came in 2015, when she lost in the semifinals to Roberta Vinci. Djokovic, who has recently followed Williams’s lead in declining to answer questions about the goal that he is pursuing, said he could relate to what she was going through.
“I was talking to Serena; she was very emotional about everything that was going on,” Djokovic said of Williams in 2015. “I can relate to what she’s been going through right now, I understand it now. Obviously, once you’re in that situation, you can really comprehend what a player goes through.
“I understand why she wanted to avoid all the questions about it because in the end of the day, you have to go out on the court and deliver,” he added. “You’re expected to always win. For a great legend that she is, she always has that expectations from everyone, including herself. It’s no different with me.”
If Saturday’s U.S. Open women’s final was perhaps the most surprising Grand Slam final in tennis history — featuring two unseeded teenagers, Leylah Fernandez of Canada and eventual winner Emma Raducanu of Britain — then the Open men’s final is perhaps the least surprising.
It feels as though we have been waiting all year for this, or at least since Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open, then the French Open, and then Wimbledon. Now Djokovic will attempt to beat Daniil Medvedev to win the first men’s calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969, and the first since Steffi Graf won a Golden Slam — all four major tournaments plus the Olympic gold medal — in 1988. It is arguably the rarest achievement in tennis. A victory would also give Djokovic his 21st career Grand Slam title, putting him ahead of his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Saturday, Sept. 11, at 4 p.m. Eastern time.
In the United States
On ESPN and streaming on the ESPN app.
On TSN and streaming on the TSN app.
Novak Djokovic has a looming career milestone that has been somewhat overshadowed by his bid to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same year. In the U.S. Open final on Sunday, he will be trying to take sole possession of the record for major men’s singles titles with a 21st. That would break a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Federer won his 20th major at the 2018 Australian Open, and Nadal won his 20th at the French Open last year, tying Federer for the first time.
(Pete Sampras, who won a record-setting 14th major title at the 2002 U.S. Open, is now a distant fourth place.)
Despite his tie with Nadal and Federer in major titles, Djokovic is considered the most successful player in men’s tennis history by most statistical measures. He has spent more time with the No. 1 world ranking than anyone else, at 337 weeks, having surpassed Federer’s record of 310 weeks earlier this year. Djokovic is also the sole player to have won all nine of the prestigious Masters 1000 events, and he has won each of them twice.
The overall Open Era record for major singles titles belongs to Serena Williams, with 23.