Novak Djokovic was on the cusp of history, and only Daniil Medvedev remained standing in his way. The Serbian had won all 27 Grand Slam matches contested this year, and was aiming to become the first man since 1969 (and only the third in history) to win all four Major titles in one year. Medvedev had already faced Djokovic in the Australian Open final earlier this year, which Djokovic easily won.
The stage was set for history to be made. But Medvedev had looked dominant all tournament, while Djokovic has had his challenges. The Russian lost one set en route to the final (vs Botic van de Zandschulp in the quarterfinal). Djokovic, meanwhile, had lost six sets, including the first set of each of his previous four matches. Medvedev was fresher and had been playing better, albeit against somewhat weaker competition. But would that be enough to get Daniil Medvedev the biggest win of his career? The answer, we very quickly learned, was yes.
Daniil Medvedev vs Novak Djokovic
Medvedev began the match as well has he ever could have dreamed. The Russian got plenty of returns in play, and outlasted Djokovic from the baseline in early rallies. He broke to open the match, then failed to convert break points in Djokovic’s second service game. He wouldn’t need them, though. Medvedev’s serving in the first serve was absolutely impeccable. Pinpoint accuracy, huge serves, and the very-rarely-required baseline game to back it meant that initial break determined the set. He couldn’t find any foothold in another Djokovic service game, but he didn’t need it. Five holds later, Medvedev took the first set 6-4.
The second serve started much better for Djokovic. He found his way into both of Medvedev’s first service games, earning multiple break point opportunities in each. Medvedev’s serve was always up to it, though, and he saved all five opportunities. Djokovic even smashed his racket (to a standing ovation from the crowd) towards the end of Medvedev’s second service game. It didn’t help, though, and Medvedev broke Djokovic with some strong baseline play the next game. Impeccable serving and strong baseline play were enough for the second set to go 6-4 in Medvedev’s favor as well.
In fact, Medvedev’s baseline game was certainly the most impressive aspect of this match. We haven’t seen anyone consistently outplay Djokovic from behind the baseline in a decade–aside from Rafael Nadal on clay, of course. This was a hard court, and Djokovic just couldn’t outwork Medvedev. The Russian didn’t win every baseline rally, obviously, but his tremendous movement and unexpected power from behind the baseline were more effective than Djokovic’s. That’s just something tennis fans haven’t seen since before 2011.
Of course, we’ve seen Djokovic come back from deficits before. He lost the first two sets in the French Open final (and the fourth round there, too). And, of course, the Serbian came back from a set down in his last four matches here in New York. Could he do it again?
Medvedev very quickly–and emphatically–gave us the answer to that. For the second time in the match, the Russian broke Djokovic to open a set. His baseline game was still equal to or better than Djokovic’s, which frustrated the Serbian. Djokovic missed some shots he’d usually make, but he was also never usually pushed like this by an opponent. Medvedev didn’t play his best game right after the break, but Djokovic couldn’t take advantage. The Russian finally holding for 2-0 felt like a real defining moment in the match. Djokovic couldn’t hold the next game, and Medvedev held a 3-0 lead. The only real question remaining was if nerves would get to the Russian.
Once again, the Russian answered. His serve stayed as strong and solid as ever. He actually played a bit of a poor game up 4-1, but whenever he was in trouble the serve and baseline game bailed him out. Djokovic held again, and Medvedev would serve for the title at 5-2. The crowd and occasion finally got to Medvedev a bit. He hit three double faults and a few errors while trying to serve it out, and Djokovic broke for 5-3.
Of course, Medvedev would still have another chance to serve it out. After Djokovic held, Medvedev did just that. The final game had no drama or intrigue. The Russian showed no major nerves, and played the same he did all match. He was incredible from the baseline, and there was nothing Djokovic could do. The Russian held, and Daniil Medvedev was a Major champion, 6-4 6-4 6-4.
There’s a lot to dissect about this match. Djokovic certainly wasn’t at his very best, and perhaps needing over 17 hours on court just to reach the final affected that. It’s easy to forget because he never shows fatigue, but Djokovic is 34 years old, and no one can completely stave off Father Time forever. Medvedev played one of the best matches of his life, and showed a level none other than Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, Stan Wawrinka, and Juan Martin del Potro (summer of 2009) have reached in recent decades.
Djokovic will certainly be disappointed, but he’s still generally the best in the world and the favorite at every Major. Odds are he’ll break the three-way tie with Federer and Nadal and win #21 at next year’s Australian Open, or another Major next year. His dominance of Nadal at the French Open is still the most impressive match we’ve seen this year, and one loss doesn’t change it. It’s a miss at history, but it’s not a changing of the guard.
For Medvedev, it’s third time the charm in a Major final. He’s inscribed his name in the tennis history books, and with the way he plays he’ll likely have opportunities for a few more. At only 25 years of age, he’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities. The ability to out-duel Novak Djokovic from behind the baseline is incredibly rare. No one else has done it on a hard court in over a decade. Talent like that doesn’t go away, which means that Daniil Medvedev will be a contender at the highest levels for years to come.
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