Djokovic faces Medvedev with Grand Slam history on the line

  • Matt Trollope

On the brink of tennis immortality, Novak Djokovic is not shrinking away from the moment.

Should he beat Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s US Open final, the legendary Serb would become the first man since Rod Laver 52 years earlier to win the Grand Slam – all four major singles titles in a calendar year.

At the same time, he would elevate himself above Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with a men’s record-breaking 21st major singles title.

It is hard to recall a single match with more historical significance attached to it.

"There's only one match left. All in, all in. Let's do it,” Djokovic said on court, to big cheers, after overcoming Alexander Zverev in a five-set semifinal on Friday night.

"I'm gonna put my heart, and my soul, and my body and my head into that one.

"I'm going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career.”

The stage is set for a magnificent spectacle on Sunday.

Not only because of what Djokovic could achieve, but because this a final featuring the world’s top two players, pitting Djokovic against one of the game’s most in-form stars.

Medvedev advanced to his second US Open final in three years, and third major final overall, with a straight-sets dissection of Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semifinals.

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He is seeking a first career Grand Slam title, an achievement with perhaps more heft given it would hold the distinction of ending one of the sport’s greatest quests.

“If I can make this, I'm probably be in the history books a little bit,” said Medvedev, who has beaten Djokovic in three of their eight career meetings, but never before at a major tournament.

“But I don't really care about it. I think it's more about him, that it affects him. From one side, for sure he's going to feel the pressure a little bit about it. From the other side, that what going to make him be even better in tough moments.

“I'm just going to throw it everything, and I'm definitely not going to be thinking about Grand Slam or whatever.”

Medvedev enters the final representing the toughest test Djokovic will have faced this fortnight in New York.

“Job is not done. Excitement is there. Motivation is there, without a doubt. Probably more than ever. But I have one more to go.”
Novak Djokovic

The Russian won the Toronto Masters title a few weeks earlier and has won 14 of his last 15 matches, dropping just one set in six victories at Flushing Meadows.

But it is worth remembering Medvedev was similarly placed when he carried a 20-match winning streak into the Australian Open 2021 final against Djokovic and was considered by many to be the favourite – only to lose in straight sets.

Medvedev said he would be better prepared for tactical shifts with which Djokovic surprised him in that final.

“I feel like I didn't leave my heart on the court in Melbourne. Even if of course I wanted to, there was something not turning up this match,” Medvedev admitted.

“That's what I'm going to try to do on Arthur Ashe. No matter the score, I'm just going to turn up the heat.

“(At the 2019 US Open) I was kind of the underdog. Let's be honest, I was already happy being in the final. It was first great breakthrough. Everything was a positive, which helped me to play good. I was not feeling like it's a must to win.

“(This time) I want to do it even more. That's normal. The more you lose something, the more you want to win it, the more you want to gain it and take it.

“I lost two (Grand Slam) finals. I want to win the third one.”

Djokovic, while the favourite this time around, certainly won’t be underestimating Medvedev.

Unlike the Russian, he has dropped sets in all but one of his matches so far.

But when his opponents have come at him, Djokovic has responded each time by elevating his game. And when Zverev pushed him to a fifth set on Friday night, there was no panic – he instead played some of his most purposeful tennis of the tournament.

Despite such high stakes, and pressure, the world No.1 is shouldering it incredibly well.

“I know we want to talk about history. I know it's on the line. Of course, I'm aware of it,” Djokovic said. “(But) I have my routines, I have my people. I isolate myself. I gather all the necessary energy for the next battle.

“It's going to be a battle against another guy who has been in tremendous form, Medvedev. I think experience-wise it's different for him now. I'm sure he's going to give it all to win it, to win his first slam.

“I'll be giving it all I possibly got in the tank to win this match. I'm not going to waste time or energy on anything that can be a distraction and deplete me from the vital energy that I need for Sunday.

“Job is not done. Excitement is there. Motivation is there, without a doubt. Probably more than ever.

“But I have one more to go.”