NEW YORK — A game from the end of his bid to be the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969, Novak Djokovic covered his face with a towel, hiding his tears during a changeover.
For 27 Grand Slam matches in 2021, Djokovic could not be deterred, could not beat, on hard court, clay court and grass. Needing another win against Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final on Sunday, to complete a season sweep of major titles and claim his 21st career record, Djokovic couldn’t come.
Dismissed by someone using a style similar to his own, Djokovic came just short of those two historic milestones, 6-4, 6-4, 6- over first-time major champion Medvedev at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Lost by 4.
What was on Djokovic’s mind as he sat on the edge, knowing full well that his discovery was moments from its conclusion?
“Relief. I was glad it was over, because the buildup to this tournament, and mentally, emotionally, I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last few weeks was just a lot. It was a lot to handle,” Djokovic said in his press conference. “I was just happy that, finally, the run was over. At the same time, I feel sad, disappointed – and grateful to the crowd and the special moment they have created for me on the court. ”
As of Sunday, No. 1-ranked Djokovic was sublime in four of the sport’s most important tournaments, bearing the burden of expectations and pressure over the past seven months, and in New York, over the past fortnight.
He won the Australian Open in February, defeating Medvedev in straight sets in the final, the French Open in June and Wimbledon in July, winning 20 Grand Slam titles with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the most for a man in history. A game that dates back to the 1800s.
The last man to complete a true Grand Slam, scoring 4 for 4 in the Major in a single season, is Rod Laver, who made it twice – in 1962 and 1969 – and put it in the stands on Sunday. The last woman to achieve this feat was Steffi Graf in 1988.
Instead, Djokovic joined as men with Jack Crawford in 1933 and Lew Hoad in 1956, winning the first trio of Grand Slam tournaments of the year and making the finals of the US Open before losing.
“I feel sorry for Novak, because I can’t imagine what he feels,” said Medvedev, 25, from Russia. “Knowing that I managed to stop him definitely makes it sweeter, and gives me confidence for times to come.”
The 34-year-old Djokovic of Serbia was far from his best on this special day.
“Just energy-wise, I felt slow,” said Djokovic, who hasn’t made that kind of comeback in each of his last four games – and six others in Grand Slam action this year – when he dropped the opening set. .
“I know I could, and should have done better,” he said.
Djokovic made a lot of mistakes, 38 unexpected mistakes in all. He wasn’t able to convert a break chance until it was too little, too late, going just 1 for 6. He also showed dismay, destroying his racket by pounding three times against the court after one point, receiving a boon from a crowd of 25,703 and a code violation from chair umpire Damien Dumusois.
Djokovic also had a lot of issues with number 2-ranked Medvedev, who used his 6-foot-6 (1.98-m) frame to chase everything down and responded with a seemingly effortless groundstroke. – the way Djokovic takes down enemies – and delivered pinpoint servings.
“He was amazing. Just congratulate him, full credit to his mindset, his approach, his game, everything,” said Djokovic. “He was an absolutely superior player and deserved to win, no doubt about it. ”
Medvedev won 20 of his first 23 service points, setting a pattern. He finished with 16 aces and 38 winners, 11 more than Djokovic. And Medvedev used the tactics of his coach Gilles Cervara, described as hitting more balls in the middle of the court, rather than trying to find the angles that Djokovic would pick up the balls on the run.
“He is so good that every match is different. He changes his strategy, he changes his approach,” Medvedev said of Djokovic.
“I had a clear plan, one that seemed to work. Was he at his best? Maybe not today. There was a lot of pressure on him,” said Medvedev. “There was a lot of pressure on me too.”
The nerves, the distracting noise of the audience and the cramps in his legs that finally reached Medvedev. He served 5–2 for the match and took one point from the win before making two consecutive double faults. At 5-4, he had a second match point and double-faulted again. On the next occasion, however, a 129 mph serve winner finally got the job done, and Medvedev fell on the court with his tongue hanging out, which he later told was a goal celebration from a soccer video game. was inspired by.
During the trophy presentation, Medvedev addressed Djokovic, praising “what you’ve achieved this year and throughout your career” and saying, “I’ve never said this to anyone, but I’ll say it now: to me, You are the greatest tennis player in history.”
In recent years, there has been constant discussion and debate about which members of the so-called Big Three — Federer, who turned 40 last month, Nadal, 35, or Djokovic — who are the hottest of the bunch and the “goat.” should be considered good. ” (“greatest of all time”).
Even with Sunday’s shock, Djokovic has accumulated statistics that help people make a case for him. He is the only one of the leading trio to have won four consecutive Majors in two seasons in 2015-16. He is the only player to have won at least two titles in every major tournament. He is the only player to have won each of the next level events of the Masters 1000 at least twice. Since the introduction of the ATP computerized rankings in 1973, he has spent more weeks at No. 1 than anyone, surpassing Federer for that honor in March. And he holds the lead in one-on-one matchups against both of his longtime rivals.
After a five-set victory over Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Alexander Zverev on Friday night, Djokovic waited in the final and declared, “I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head in that. . I am going to treat the next match as if it is the last match of my career.
But Medvedev, who lost just one set in the entire tournament, never allowed Djokovic to enter this match.
Djokovic himself was not enough from the start. After throwing three break points at the start of the second set, with a shredded backhand into the net, he extended his racket against his thigh—one, two, three, four times, perhaps as much as his form—in his footwork. disappoint.
Thousands of spectators chanted his nickname, “No-lay! No-take! No-lay!” After some faults from Medvedev, some in the stands applauded, considered poor form in tennis, and were repeatedly warned with a “please” from Dumusois.
By the end, the losses had become too great for Djokovic, the climb too steep.
“I was equal to everything, to be honest,” he said. “So just one of these days where, unfortunately, wasn’t meant to be.”
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