Novak Djokovic had an opportunity to surpass his great rivals Federer and Nadal and get to the zenith of 21 slams, but Daniil Medvedev was a man on a mission for his own date with history.
Daniil Medvedev is a grand slam winner. The Russian sensation has been gunning for the breakthrough major win for the better part of the last two years but one of the Big 3 has always stood in his way. All bets said it would be the same once Novak Djokovic powered through all his opponents yet again to make his ninth US Open final. This time, however, the world No. 2 flipped the script to translate his second Flushing Meadows final into a victory, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Medvedev had been here before, pushing Rafael Nadal into a five set final two years ago, only to watch the legendary player lift the trophy once more. The Spaniard had dominated the first two sets then, but the 25-year-old Medvedev fought back in the middle of that match, ultimately running out of gas in the final in 2019. However, a more seasoned Medvedev emerged two years later, resolute, and almost stoic in his determination to change the narrative.
“I’ve never said this to anybody, but for me, you’re the greatest tennis player in history,” Medvedev said to Djokovic in his trophy celebration speech. “It’s not an easy journey to win a slam, but I’m really grateful to you and for helping me throughout this journey,” continued Medvedev, thanking his team and the crowd.
For Djokovic, the U.S. Open ends his hopes of becoming only the third man (the other two are Don Budget and Rod Laver, who was in the Arthur Ashe audience) in tennis to own the Calendar Year Grand Slam—all four majors in the same calendar year. He already lost an opportunity to equal the Golden Career Slam—achieved by Steffi Graf—by going out in the semifinal round at the Tokyo Olympics. He will end the year sitting on equal footing with the other two GOAT members of the Big Three: Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal remain unparalleled, together, with 20 grand slams.
The pressure to establish himself as the sole GOAT was probably too much, even for someone as dominant as Djokovic. At one point the 20-time slam champion sat down at his bench and broke down, a very rare display of emotion, before staring ahead in disbelief. The Serbian has been the dominant force in tennis for so long, it was hard to believe the scoreboard.
All the credit goes to Medvedev for breaking the glass ceiling of slams that have been held onto by the Big 3. Dominic Thiem won his maiden slam last year as well, but his opponent was someone not named Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal. Medvedev achieved the rare feet of defeating one of those legends on a court they have owned in what seems eternity. The territory seemed so unfamiliar that Medvedev wasn’t sure what he should do with the $2.5 M winning check. “Should I open it?” he asked.
The ability to handle the pressure of a grand slam final is one thing. Facing one of the legends of the sport is another. And there was a moment when he almost let Novak Djokovic back into the set, when the Russian double faulted several times, sitting with a few match points. Djokovic came back to win his next serve game, but testament to Medvedev’s resolve, he managed to close out the win nonetheless, becoming the first Russian since 2005 to win a major.
Medvedev is one of the few of his generation who has accomplished the monumental feet. At 25 years old, he has won his first grand slam and is sure to add more major trophies in his future. He’s been a consistent figure in the Top 5 for the last two years, won three Masters 1000 titles, and now his first grand slam.
For Djokovic, it has been a remarkable year, achieving three slams, including defeating the King of Clay at Roland Garros. He is sure to bounce back from the loss and rise again in his quest to add to his trophy haul and keep up the race with the other two legends who have come to define excellence in men’s tennis.
But with Emma Raducanu also winning her first slam on Saturday, there is a swell of youthful movement in tennis, and it is very clear that the reign of the legends is on the decline.