Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam dreams were shattered last night, along with the remains of his racket.
The 34-year-old Serb, in tears during a third-set switch, missed his chance at history when he delivered the US Open final to world number two Daniil Medvedev.
Worn by the pressure and tired from previous efforts of the fortnight, he was beaten 6-4 6-4 6-4 in two hours and sixteen minutes. Emotions ran high, both when he smashed his tool in the second set and during one of the breaks, when you could see him shedding tears of frustration.
One short of the 28 wins needed over the year’s four Majors, he is also on par with absent Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on the phenomenal 20th total. While there was a trail of late resistance, it was an oddly flat conclusion to what was such an exciting tournament.
Daniil Medvedev is the 2021 US Open champion after beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Flushing Meadows on Sunday
The Serb failed to enter the game and was overwhelmed by his Russian rival and lost his chance at the historic Golden Slam
Medvedev slumped to the ground as he took the championship point and finally achieved what his potential had suggested
In Medvedev, he has a potential problem in his ambitions to finally end the debate over who is the greatest of all time.
The skinny Russian is hungry and his game is so big that he is sure to win even more of the sport’s biggest awards. Sometimes he simply outclasses his opponent with the quality of his hitting, when his serve is absolutely deadly.
At some point, Nadal and Federer may have thought that maybe this isn’t over yet.
Medvedev, a headstrong Muscovite whose clothes hang awkwardly from his sinewy six-foot frame, becomes that rare thing in men’s tennis – a new champion.
When they come, it’s usually at this location. He succeeds Dominic Thiem and follows Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka as winners here from outside the Big Three since 2009.
The Russian sped away to 4-0 in the third set, but got nervous and made a double foul on his first two match points before making no mistake with the third in front of an increasingly frantic crowd.
Medvedev dominated the great champion and put in an impeccable performance in New York for his first-ever Grand Slam
The man who won all four in 1969, Rod Laver, had flown in to watch, in the same kind of chair in which Virginia Wade has become a fixture during Emma Raducanu’s matches.
The Australian legend is the only man to pull it off in the post-1968 Open era, although Donald Budge did the same in 1968. At that time, three Slams were played on grass and one on clay, so there was not the same control surface variation.
Statistically, aside from the Nadal-dominated clay court, this was Djokovic’s least successful Grand Slam, perhaps a point in the season where he used up most of his energy.
That is very much by its own extraordinary standards. It is certainly overshadowed by its nine in Australia, and an additional difference this year is that the courts are even faster than usual in New York.
This would suit Medvedev well, especially with a serve that, without much ado, has become as powerful as any shot in the men’s game.
His modus operandi is to finish his service games with an honest lick, increasing the pressure on opponents to hold their own.
As if there wasn’t enough pressure on Djokovic at the start, given what was at stake. It is also a special feature of this tournament that he got off to a terrible start.
He was only the second player in tennis history to drop the first set in four of his matches and still make it to the final.
It was therefore no surprise that Medvedev saw an early opening and in the first game he was helped to a break by a double fault from Djokovic. He then had two breakpoints to make it 3-0, but couldn’t kiss himself.
In February’s Australian Open final between the same players, the Russian began to gain the upper hand until the first bottleneck arrived late in the first set before sinking.
It was therefore a warning when he got up at 5-4 to serve it out in an undramatic fashion. Ominously, at that stage he had won every point on the first serve and only three on his second.
Djokovic typically recovered early in the second, but it was now that he began to boil over, finally igniting his frustration at failing to convert three break points. In the fourth game, he destroyed his racket by knocking it into the ground repeatedly to earn a code violation.
Since he was traded away from the baseline in the next game, the damage was compounded by being broken. Medvedev’s forehand wouldn’t get high marks for artistry, but that too is a terrifying piece of artillery.
Medvedev reached the set point, only to attempt a terrible drop shot sitting upright waiting to be knocked away. But the best the world’s number one could do was cripple him in the tram lines.
Just like in the final of the French Open, against Stefanos Tsitsipas, he should come back from two sets behind.
When he was almost half way back to Manhattan to receive the serve, he broke at the start of the third, with Djokovic’s body language starting to slack and begging for the chances to bounce back.
Given the modern ways of tennis, it was a surprise that he didn’t leave the court between sets. One can only wonder if he felt the game was over.
Dismissal is something you so rarely see in the 34-year-old Serb, yet there was an air of it when Medvedev broke him a second time to give himself the luxury of a muted lead.