After beating Novak Djokovic to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open, Daniil Medvedev declared during the on-court ceremony that Djokovic was “the greatest tennis player in the history”.
Because of this, Medvedev’s milestone carried extra significance.
The Russian was a considerable underdog coming into Sunday’s final, with Djokovic just one victory away from completing the celebrated Grand Slam.
After winning the Australian, French and Wimbledon titles earlier in 2021 – including a straight-sets thrashing of Medvedev in the final at Melbourne Park – the Serb was an incredible 27-0 at major tournaments this year.
Djokovic was also within sight of a men’s record 21st major singles title, but Medvedev prevented him from re-writing tennis history.
It was an extraordinary time for Medvedev to break through for his first major success.
“I do feel sorry for Novak because I cannot imagine what he feels. I don't know this feeling. (But) it definitely makes it sweeter,” said the second seed, who had lost his first two Grand Slam finals, including at the US Open two years ago.
“A Grand Slam is a Grand Slam. I would win it against Botic (van de Zandschulp, the qualifier Medvedev beat in the quarters) in the final, probably I would be same happy.
“Knowing that I beat somebody who was 27-0 in a year in Grand Slams, I lost to him in Australia, he was going for huge history, and knowing that I managed to stop him, it definitely makes it sweeter and brings me confidence for what is to come.”
Unlike the joyful surprise that accompanied Emma Raducanu’s victory in the women’s singles this fortnight, Medvedev’s triumph hardly went against the form guide.
He had won the Toronto Masters title leading into the US Open and had won 14 of his past 15 matches by the time he lined up against Djokovic.
He discussed the experience he had steadily accumulated at the top level and how he hoped this would benefit him when he came face-to-face with a player he had never before beaten at a Grand Slam event.
Medvedev was confident that he would take valuable lessons from his disheartening finals defeat to Djokovic at Australian Open 2021.
But he still had to execute on the day against the world’s best player.
He did so brilliantly, slotting 16 aces among 38 winners and winning more than 80 per cent of his first-serve points. Those winners outnumbered his unforced errors as he completed a shock 6-4 6-4 6-4 triumph in two hours, 15 minutes.
“We always talk tactics before the match with my coach. Usually takes five, ten minutes… Probably where I'm going to serve, what I'm going to do during the points. When it's against Novak, it took like probably 30 minutes,” he revealed.
“Was he at his best? Maybe not today. He had a lot of pressure.
“I had a lot of pressure, too, about the risk on the second serve, it was because of the confidence I had. I knew I cannot give him easy serves because that's what he likes.
“Because of the confidence in a lot of tight moments, I managed to do it well.”
Impressively, Medvedev had already collected four ATP Masters titles and peaked at world No.2.
But, thanks to a quality shared by many champions, he remained unsatisfied.
His champion’s mentality also surfaced in the challenging final stages of the third set, when the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd electrified in support of Djokovic and affected Medvedev’s concentration.
The 25-year-old revealed his legs began cramping at 5-3, after his serve had descended into double faults a game earlier when he reached championship point.
In a steely psychological effort, Medvedev nevertheless prevailed against an opponent notoriously difficult to put away.
“You never know if you're going to achieve it in your career,” Medvedev said.
“Not many player won a Masters in their career. But the only thing I was thinking after winning another Masters is I need more, I want to try to do more.
“So now … (the feeling is) a lot of happiness. Because that's my first Grand Slam. I don't know how I'm going to feel if I win a second or third one.
“But that's my first one, so I'm really happy. Means a lot to me.”