It was Briton Dan Evans, his fourth-round victim, who summed up the experience of playing against Daniil Medvedev.
“You watch the draw hoping he won’t be around me for the rest of my days,” the British No1 said with his usual candor. Evans was just one of six players crushed by the lanky 2ft 6in Russian en route to what was the all-predicted men’s final of the US Open on Sunday night.
For example, Medvedev finds himself as the last line of defense ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the battle to see who has the most Major titles. One more and his opponent, 34-year-old Novak Djokovic, moves on to 21.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) on the brink of greatness could win a record 21st Major title
The 34-year-old reached the US Open final after beating Alexander Zverev in the semifinals
Not only that, of course, but Djokovic also completes one of the great achievements in any sport this century to date, which is winning all four Grand Slams in the same calendar year. The last man to do it, Rod Laver, flew in from his California home to see his feat replicated 52 years later from the moment he pulled it off.
Nadal will certainly not be there and yesterday in Barcelona released a photo of himself with a plaster foot after undergoing surgery. Today, it is far from certain that he will even add another French Open to his Grand Slam tally.
So it’s hard to overestimate just how much is at stake for Djokovic tonight, in the venue he left in embarrassment last year when we were found guilty for hitting a linesman.
“I’m going to cover this match because it’s my last because it might be the most important in my career,” Djokovic said after battling Alex Zverev in five sets, reversing the result of their Olympic semi-final.
The pressure of what he’s trying to do has led to the uneven play of his matches at Flushing Meadows. Djokovic has dropped a set in five of his six games here, but has always managed to level up to get past opponents who are getting harder and harder.
There can be no argument that if he falls to the ground in triumph tonight, he will have beaten the two current best players in the world in Zverev and Medvedev. Friday night we saw again how he managed to win the 27 best-of-five games in 2021 that got him to this point.
No one has ever played the important points better and when the German created break opportunities, he kept swinging a laser-guided serve so many times that freed Djokovic out of trouble. When the ball is returned, his ability to rally and get his opponents to do something special to win the point is unmatched.
“I think mentally he is the best player who has ever played the game,” Zverev concluded. “Mentally I would rather play against someone else than him at the most important moments.”
Djokovic has been careful not to get ahead of things, but when this comment was reported to him, there was an air of contentment. “I’m glad my opponents feel that way about me. I want them to feel like they’re under extreme pressure when I face them on a big stage in Grand Slams,” he said.
The good news for the legions of Nadal and Federer followers who have suddenly signed up to the Medvedev fan club is that their man is clearly physically capable of winning.
His opponent at Flushing Meadows is the lanky 1m60 Russian Daniil Medvedev (above)
Djokovic hopes to conquer several legends of the game, also currently with 20 Major wins
Djokovic can overtake Rafael Nadal (photo) and Roger Federer (top) on Sunday with a win
Based in the Cote D’Azur, the headstrong Muscovite is a deceptively brilliant athlete beneath his skinny appearance. As Evans pointed out, until you play him, it’s hard to gauge how accurate his serve is and how quickly he can get to the front when needed.
He has dropped just one set en route to what will be his third Grand Slam final. At the Australian Open in February, the same two players battled for the championship and Medvedev in particular had the best of the opening set before getting nervous towards the end.
Given that he can have an incendiary temperament, the big question is whether he will wither when it comes to the crunch points, not whether his game can match that of the great Serb. Medvedev considered this question and how he felt as the final obstacle to making history.
“He will definitely feel a little bit of pressure. On the other hand, that’s what will make him even better in difficult moments,” said the world number 2. really care about that. I think it’s more about him, how it affects him.’
Djokovic doesn’t always make it easy for himself to like, despite his nagging desire to be popular. However, his greatness is indisputable and in the unlikely event that he loses Sunday night, that will not change.