Live sports is defined by its unpredictability. No matter what a player has done in the past, it all boils down to how they performs on the day. While sport rewards your legacy, it does not guarantee you any results. In the US Open final, it was Novak Djokovic’s turn to embrace this bitter truth as he fell agonizingly short of achieving the ‘Calendar Slam’. Instead, the 25-year-old Russian, Daniil Medvedev, who has been breathing down the necks of ‘Big Three’ over the past couple of years, finally had his moment of glory. He toppled Djokovic in straight sets to stun the raucous New York crowd. In the process, he took home his first-ever Major title.
Since the onset of the 2019 North American hard-court season, Medvedev has been relentless on the hard courts and has won a number of significant titles on the surface. He has won 12 out of his 13 career titles on the hard courts, including ATP Masters 1000 crows in Cincinnati, Shanghai, Paris Bercy, and Toronto, as well as the season-ending finals which he won last year.
Still the way Medvedev beat usually unshakable Djokovic at his own game was astonishing, something that we never witnessed in the past, especially on the hard courts. From the first game to last, Djokovic never really appeared to have any chance against Medvedev. Such was the Russian’s dominance that he outsmarted the Serb in the baseline rallies, making him hit more of the backhand wing than the forehand.
His perfectly executed serves that painted the lines made Djokovic, the best returner of the game, look like a pedestrian, thereby robbing his opponent one of the crucial elements of his game. Of course, Djokovic was nowhere near his best, with the accumulation of pressure and time spent on court appearing to have caught up with at him at the final hurdle. But Medvedev too had to handle the pressure of the occasion.
So, what makes Medvedev so special, especially on the hard courts? While the Russian has lost his way on the clay and is still far off from getting hold of his game on grass, he is a master at work on the hard courts. His biggest strength on the hard courts lies in the fact that he keeps things simple.
He may not possess a bludgeoning forehand like Rafael Nadal or may not have a physically powerful game like Dominic Thiem. Nor does he have finesse like Roger Federer at the net nor trick shots like Nick Kyrgios. However, he truly has a mix of everything in the right proportion to be efficient on the hard courts. While Medvedev may not excel in one department like some of his peers do, his ability to strike the right balance makes all the difference as far as his success on the hard courts is concerned.
The Russian is 6’6″ tall. His height plays an indispensable role in his immaculate serving. His lean physique makes him an efficient mover on the court and his ability at the end of his range to his opponents must play an extra shot, even when deep behind the baseline, has earned him plenty of errors.
Medvedev is like a brick wall from behind the baseline and possesses enough patience to outlast all but the most determined opponent. His game is not flashy but is not physically taxing either, thereby increasing his endurance. His game is physically efficient and revolves around conserving energy which makes a significant difference when he is playing on the hard courts, an unforgiving surface by nature.
Medvedev’s deep return position coupled with his reliability of both the wings is a recipe for headache as far as his opponents are concerned. The 25-year-old Russian is quintessentially hot-tempered, but his US Open triumph amidst the hostile atmosphere at Arthur Ashe Stadium attests to the fact that he has matured with time, and the experience of playing in high-pressure situations has made him a better player.
Medvedev’s victory in New York is a galvanizing moment as far as the future of tennis is concerned as he became the first player of his generation to topple one of the ‘Big Three’ in the final of a Major.
With Federer and Nadal approaching the end of their careers, and sooner rather than later, is Medvedev’s victory over Djokovic the first glimpse of change of the guard? Well, we may not know yet as we have witnessed plenty of false dawns in the past. Nonetheless, Medvedev’s triumph certainly can act as a torchbearer for the younger crop of players as their efforts of establishing themselves at the grandest stages of the game might be closer than ever of being realized.
Medvedev has finally won his maiden Major, but one question looms. Can Medvedev show consistency in continuing his ascendance towards becoming one of the successors of the ‘Big Three’? Or will he struggle to cope with his newfound status as a Grand Slam champion? He wouldn’t be the first. But the answers to those questions will have to wait until the 2022 Grand Slam season.
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