Daniil Medvedev did the unthinkable on Sunday – he stopped Novak Djokovic from completing the calendar year Grand Slam by defeating him in straight sets in the US Open final.
The world No 2 blocked his opponent’s path to becoming only the third men's player and the first since 1969 to win all four majors in the same season, by lifting a maiden Grand Slam trophy with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
The Russian proceeded to do the Fifa ‘dead fish’ celebration, dropping to his side onto the hard court of Arthur Ashe Stadium, his eyes closed and tongue out.
It was all very Medvedevian, from his uber-aggressive – borderline reckless – second serves, to his unorthodox shot-making that saw him out-rally Djokovic, to his comedic finale that required an explanation during the trophy ceremony – “Only legends will understand, but my celebration was L2 + Left".
Here’s how Medvedev snapped Djokovic’s 27-match winning streak at the majors.
Going all out on serve
Medvedev’s strategy entering the match was to be very aggressive on both his first and second serves, and he executed it almost flawlessly up until the last couple of games when he got tight trying to close out the victory.
His average first-serve speed en route to the final was 190kmph. On Sunday against Djokovic, it was 196.8kmph.
Despite Djokovic being one of the best returners in the history of the sport, Medvedev managed to win 81 per cent of his first-serve points, and 58 per cent of his second-serve points. The second seed saved five out of six break points he faced and fired 16 aces.
“About the risk on the second serve, it was because of the confidence I had,” said Medvedev after the win. “I knew I cannot give him easy serves because that's what he likes. So that was the plan. Because of the confidence in a lot of tight moments, I managed to do it well.”
His coach Gilles Cervara explained how they put extra emphasis on the serve during practice after the Tokyo Olympics and that the work they put in paid off.
“I felt the serve was not good enough like he did in the past, especially two years ago when he won so many matches. He won because his level on serve was very high. That’s what he needs to do,” said Cervara.
“We took more time to work on this shot. Like every day I got my goals in my practices to make him be at his best level on serve. With Daniil, when you work something at the good moment, on the good goal, then it works straightaway. We felt it straightaway in Toronto that the serve increase so much.”
‘Below par’ Djokovic had no legs
Djokovic entered the final having played five more sets and spent five hours and 35 minutes longer on court than Medvedev through six matches.
The world No 1 is usually relentless when it comes to long exchanges but won just seven of the 25 rallies that had nine or more shots against Medvedev. Djokovic was successful on his serve-and-volley points, winning 17/19, but was far less clinical at the net in general, going 31/47 overall up front.
“He came out very determined on the court. You could feel that he was just at highest of his abilities in every shot. He had a lot of clarity what he needs to do tactically. He has executed it perfectly. On the other hand, I was just below par with my game. My legs were not there. I was trying. I did my best. Yeah, I made a lot of unforced errors. I didn't have – no serve really,” said Djokovic.
Medvedev’s motivation was sky-high
After losing badly to Djokovic in the Australian Open final earlier this year, Medvedev knew he had to do something different to have any chance in Sunday's final.
“After the final in Australia, we had the feeling that Daniil didn't have this fire that can help your game to be much stronger, especially against a player like Novak. So this had to change for sure to play this final at another level,” said Cervara.
The key was upping his energy, which was greatly aided by competing in front of a rowdy New York crowd. Even though most of the fans were cheering for Djokovic on Sunday, Medvedev is an expert at using that kind of atmosphere to his advantage, and it only added fuel to the fire within him, just like it did when the crowd turned against him in 2019.
“I want to thank you guys. Today maybe it was a little bit more for Novak but that’s completely understandable. Throughout the week you gave me a lot of energy, starting from 2019 long ago, it helped me until today. It wasn’t easy but thanks a lot guys,” Medvedev said on court.
Djokovic mentally spent
There were no eruptions, no screams of frustration, and no growling towards the box from Djokovic on Sunday. Barring one broken racquet, the Serb was fairly subdued throughout the fina, and the pressure on his shoulders was palpable. There is a reason why no man has completed the Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969: It is a monumentally difficult feat to achieve, even for a mental beast like Djokovic.
The 34-year-old Serb acknowledged he felt emotionally drained and said his predominant feeling while sitting on court after the loss was “relief”.
“I was glad it was over because the buildup for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot. It was a lot to handle,” he added. “I was just glad that finally the run is over.
“It was also emotionally a very demanding period for me in the last five, six months. Slams and Olympics and playing at home in Belgrade. Everything was coming together for me here and kind of accumulating all the emotions that I've been through.”