Daniil Medvedev wins U.S. Open title, thwarting Novak Djokovic’s bid at history

Daniil Medvedev of Russia celebrates defeating Novak Djokovic of Serbia to win their Men's Singles final match on Day 14 of the 2021 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Sunday, September 12, 2021 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Al Bello/Getty Images/TNS)
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Helene Elliott Los Angeles Times (TNS)

NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic’s attempt to win a calendar Grand Slam was stopped Sunday by Daniil Medvedev, a lanky, 25-year-old Russian who showed no fear in dominating the 20-time Grand Slam singles champion in a shockingly short U.S. Open final.

Medvedev became a first-time Grand Slam event champion with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 sweep of Djokovic, who was bidding to become the first man to win all four Slam singles titles in the same year since Rod Laver did so in 1969. Medvedev, ranked No. 2 in the world to Djokovic’s No. 1, also denied Djokovic the championship Djokovic needed to break his tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Slam singles titles won by a male tennis player.

Djokovic is known as the fittest player on the men’s tour, so even when he went down two sets to none he could not be counted out. In fact, he had lost the first set of each of his previous four matches here.

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But Medvedev wasn’t about to allow a repeat of the pattern of his previous appearance in the final here, in 2019. On that occasion, he won the first two sets against Nadal but eventually lost. Medvedev was a semifinalist here a year ago, losing to Dominic Thiem.

Medvedev and Djokovic embraced at the net, and Medvedev waved to the crowd, enjoying his moment of triumph.

With Nadal, Federer and Thiem absent this year because of injuries, room was created for a breakthrough by one of the younger players whose Slam tournament hopes have been stymied by those three players and by Djokovic. Medvedev met the challenge in splendid fashion, losing only one set in the seven matches he played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Djokovic had lost six sets before Sunday’s final and had played a five-set semifinal against Alexander Zverev on Friday, perhaps depleting his energy for the final. Medvedev was the fresher, more efficient and more mobile player, without doubt.

Djokovic got off to a shaky start in the first set and committed the first of his three double faults. Medvedev gained the advantage when Djokovic hit a forehand wide and earned the break on another errant forehand by Djokovic.

Medvedev held serve the next game and had two break points in the third game, aided by another double fault by Djokovic. The crowd began to stir, perhaps wondering what was wrong with Djokovic. He soon responded: At 15-40, Djokovic came up with a backhand winner, and at 30-40 he won the point on an overhead. He then served two aces to hold serve and cut Medvedev’s lead to 2-1.

The six games after that went according to serve and were quick, with few long rallies. That put Medvedev in position to serve for the set at 5-4, and he finished it with a flourish — his eighth ace.

Djokovic had three break points in the second game of the second set, but Medvedev’s serve helped him escape. He fired two aces and held serve, potentially a key moment. Medvedev had a break point in the third game, but Djokovic held to go up 2-1.

The crowd initially seemed torn about which player to support. The fans here have consistently backed the underdog, but they also wanted to witness history, which meant backing Djokovic. The witness-to-history sentiment seemed to prevail as the match progressed.

Djokovic got a warning for racket abuse in the fourth game after he hit a forehand long and then slammed his racket to the ground three times. He had two break points in that game but couldn’t cash in. That proved crucial when Medvedev earned a break in the fifth game, sealed when Djokovic sent a backhand long. That put Medvedev up 3-2, a lead that became 4-2 when Medvedev held serve at love.

Medvedev won the set on his third set point opportunity, setting the crowd to buzzing and wondering whether he would spoil Djokovic’s attempt to make history. Medvedev had the answer to everything Djokovic did. Djokovic was repeatedly frustrated by Medvedev’s mobility and return game and seemed to be playing catch-up the whole time.

Medvedev had one championship point, serving at 5-3 in the third, but he double-faulted and Djokovic managed to get the break. He deservedly earned roars from the crowd for his persistence. Medvedev had another championship point at 40-15 in the 10th game and again double-faulted, but he won when Djokovic netted a forehand.

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