US Open: Emma Raducanu, Novak Djokovic and a tournament of history made and denied

Women's champion earns place in the record books but Medvedev prevents men's world No 1 from completing the calendar Grand Slam

The story of the 2021 US Open was one of history made and history denied.

In the build-up to the season's fourth and final Grand Slam, and indeed throughout much of the tournament, much of the focus centred on Novak Djokovic as the world No 1 bid to become only the second male player in the Open era, after Rod Laver in 1969, to win all four majors in the same year.

The 34-year-old Serb was below his incomparable best throughout the Flushing Meadows fortnight, habitually and uncharacteristically losing the first set in most rounds.

But still, once he had ground his way to the final, Djokovic was widely expected to complete the calendar Grand Slam and edge ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the most decorated men's major champion in history – even if he was up against the second best player in the world.

Instead, Sunday's final saw Djokovic on the receiving end of an emphatic beating, similar to the many he has dished out himself in finals over the years, including to Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open in February.

Inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, Medvedev earned his revenge, thoroughly outplaying Djokovic from start to finish to win his breakthrough major title. It was the Russian's third Grand Slam final and at 25 years old, he looks well set to add more majors to his trophy cabinet, particularly on hard courts.

"Sorry for you fans and Novak because we all know what he was going for," Medvedev said. "What you have accomplished in your career ... for me, you are the greatest tennis player in the history."

For Djokovic, a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam will have to wait, and he admitted the mounting expectations and pressure had taken their toll.

"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," he said.

"It was a lot to handle. I was just glad that finally the run is over."

Yet, even if Djokovic had written his name in the record books on Sunday, there was every chance his achievements would have been relegated to secondary importance in the wider story of the 2021 US Open, such was the mind-boggling accomplishments of the women's champion.

Emma Raducanu arrived at the US Open for qualifying ranked No 150 in the world and without a single WTA Tour victory to her name. The 18-year-old Briton caught the attention at Wimbledon earlier in the summer when, as a wildcard entry, she defied expectations to reach the fourth round, but few outside her inner circle would have predicted what would unfold in New York in only her second major tournament.

After blitzing through three rounds of qualifying, Raducanu kept her foot on the gas to carve through the main draw, dominating Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and 17th seed Maria Sakkari en route to the final.

Her opponent may have also been contesting her first major final, but Leylah Fernandez had accounted for three of the world's top five players in defending champion Naomi Osaka, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty, and second seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Any concerns that a final between two inexperienced teenagers might disappoint were soon brushed aside, and following almost two hours of high-quality, intense and absorbing tennis, Raducanu sealed a place in the record books with a booming ace.

Raducanu is the first player in the Open era to win a Grand Slam title as a qualifier and the first British female major champion since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. She is also the first woman to win the US Open without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014.

"I've always dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. You just say these things. But to have the belief I did, and actually winning, I can't believe it," Raducanu said.

"I first started when I was a little girl, but I think the biggest thing that you have visions of is the winning moment, and going to celebrate with your team. That's been playing in my head for a couple of nights. I've fallen asleep to that."

After becoming the youngest female Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004, Raducanu, who has climbed to No 23 in the rankings said: "It shows the future of women's tennis and depth of the game is so great."

It certainly is and Raducanu has now positioned herself at the front of that future.

Updated: September 13th 2021, 12:45 PM
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