The culmination of the 2021 US Open marks the end of yet another Grand Slam season. The final Slam of the year revealed countless intriguing stories and mesmerized us with tremendous memories. The return of fans in New York this year after the event was being held behind closed doors in 2020 just enhanced the tournament’s charm.
The US Open men’s final was bound to create history as Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev locked horns. What we witnessed in the final was way beyond anyone could imagine. The 34-year-old Serb was made to taste his own medicine as Medvedev conquered Djokovic at his own game, beating the Serb 6-4 6-4 6-4 in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Medvedev’s victory is a galvanizing occasion as far as the future of tennis is concerned. He became the first man of his generation to win a Major by beating one of the “Big 3” in a final. In the process, he emulated fellow Russian Marat Safin’s feat of winning the US Open. Safin won the US Open, the only Major win of his career, in 2000.
Medvedev was runner-up at the US Open in 2019 and the Australian Open earlier this year. However, he was determined to change his fortunes this time around. He played like a champion throughout the tournament, especially in the final against Djokovic, from the get-go. The features of Medvedev’s maiden Major triumph were his precise serving, relentless game from behind the baseline, and unshattered self-belief, losing just a solitary set en route to his title. Having won multiple Masters 1000 titles and the 2020 ATP finals, Medvedev has become a tremendous hard-court player.
What’s next for Djokovic
It was a sense of anti-climax for Djokovic. Coming into this final, he was just one victory shy of completing his Calendar Slam, a feat neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal have even come close to achieving. The 20-time Major champion had to maneuver through the tougher draw. That eventually took its toll against Medvedev, who was fresher among the two.
Djokovic wasn’t in his element. He appeared fatigued and was short of any ideas as the final frontier seemed to be an insurmountable problem to master. The Serb also missed an opportunity to claim his record-breaking 21st Major and his emotional breakdown was evident as he couldn’t stop from shedding tears behind the towel at the changeover before Medvedev served for the championship. It was Djokovic’s sixth loss in the final at the US Open. He might not have won the title, but he certainly won the hearts of the packed New York crowd on Sunday.
Other future stars
Before entering this year’s US Open, Alexander Zverev was riding on a high following his triumphs at Tokyo Olympics and Cincinnati Masters. He carried that momentum into the final Slam of the year, losing just one set before the semifinals. Against Djokovic in the semifinal, he clinched the opening set. He lost the next two sets but won the fourth set to stretch the clash into the deciding set.
However, in the 5th set, the 24-year-old German ran out of steam and bowed out of the tournament a round earlier this year, after being the finalist in 2020. Of late, Zverev has been consistently going deep at the Majors, something that he has vastly improved since his earlier years. Nonetheless, he is yet to crack the puzzle of beating a Top 10 player at a Grand Slam.
Third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas’ woes post his amazing run on the clay season continued, as he returns from the US Open disappointed and dejected. After winning a controversy-plagued marathon five-setter against Andy Murray in the opening round, the Greek unexpectedly crumbled in five sets against emerging Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the third round. He has a lot of questions to answer before he steps out on the court for the remainder of the 2021 season.
Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini, who had a season to remember on grass, struggled to hit the top gear at this year’s US Open. The 25-year-old Italian, who had to miss the Tokyo Olympics owing to a thigh injury, never really was able to translate the grass-court form onto the hard courts as his campaign came to an end in the quarterfinal at the hands of Djokovic. Berrettini won the opening set against the Serb but had nothing left in the tank thereafter, as he slowly crumbled in four sets.
Canadian youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is currently coached by Toni Nadal, remains to be inconsistent on tour, but his semifinal run is certainly a step in the right direction. In the semifinal against Medvedev, Auger-Aliassime showed a glimmer of hope in the second set when he tried to level the match. However, he failed to do so and was overwhelmed by the Russian’s dominance, especially in the third set. The highlight for the 21-year-old at this year’s US Open was his five-set victory over the veteran Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round. Though Auger-Aliassime comprehensively lost to Medvedev in the semifinal, he can take home lots of positives from his first-ever semifinal run at a Major.
On the men’s side of the draw, the three names that punched above their weight and impressed us the most are quarterfinalists Llyod Harris, Carlos Alcaraz, and Botic van de Zandschulp. Harris, who upset Nadal at the Citi Open this August, conquered the seeds Karen Khachanov, Denis Shapovalov, and Reilly Opelka en route to his maiden quarterfinal at a Major. The South African was competitive in the opening set against Zverev in the quarterfinal. He also had a set point but eventually crumbled in straight sets to end what was a successful US Open campaign.
18-year-old Spaniard Alcaraz caused the upset of the tournament when he beat World No.3 Tsitsipas in five sets in the third. However, he had to exit the US Open in an unfortunate way as he had to retire mid-match against Auger-Aliassime with a right adductor injury. Qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp beat Diego Schwartzman in five sets in their Round of 16 clash to book a quarterfinal spot for the first time at a Major. He succumbed to the eventual winner Medvedev in four sets to draw curtains on his most successful campaign at a Major.
The women’s side of the draw was full of surprises. 18-year-old British qualifier Emma Raducanu did not drop a set in ten matches to win her first-ever Major. This was Raducanu’s just second appearance at a Major, which makes her achievement truly remarkable. En route to her title triumph, she defeated Maria Sakkari in the semifinal and Olympic Gold Medalist Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinal. The victory at the US Open helped Raducanu ascend 127 spots in the WTA rankings. She is now the 23rd ranked player in the world.
Interestingly, Raducanu wasn’t the only teenager in the women’s final, as she locked horns against 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez in the title clash. The southpaw had a tougher draw to maneuver. She upset defending champion Naomi Osaka, three-time Major champion Angelina Kerber, Elina Svitolina, and No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka on her journey to the final.
Cincinnati Masters champion and the World No.1 Ashleigh Barty was one of the top favorites to win the title at New York this year. However, a shock loss against Shelby Rogers in the third round an early exit, thereby crushing her hopes of winning back-to-back Majors after she had won Wimbledon.
As we draw curtains on the Grand Slam season, it’s now time to turn our attention to the Laver Cup, Indian Wells Masters, and the European hard-court swing in the lead up to season-ending ATP Finals, which will be contested in its new home at Turin, Italy beginning this year!
Main Photo from Getty.