The U.S. Open Men’s Singles We Only Half Expected: Djokovic vs. Medvedev

From the day the men’s singles draw came out, the path for Novak Djokovic to reach yet another U.S. Open final seemed clear, and seemed to set up for a showdown with Carlos Alcaraz, which would have been a rematch of this year’s Wimbledon final.

This U.S. Open men’s final will get a rematch — just not between Djokovic and Alcaraz. Daniil Medvedev of Russia, after defeating Alcaraz on Friday night in four sets, will play Djokovic on Sunday afternoon for the championship.

It will be a rematch of the 2021 U.S. Open final, which Medvedev won, stopping Djokovic from completing a calendar Grand Slam that year.

Here’s what you need to know about the match on Sunday:

On paper, it would seem that Djokovic has battered his way through to the championship match. He won five of his six matches in straight sets. But he has faced some formidable opposition along the way. In the third round, Djokovic ran into trouble when he dropped the first two sets to Laslo Djere, a fellow Serbian. But Djokovic was able to will his way back to win, wrapping up at around 1:30 a.m.

In the quarterfinals, Djokovic faced Taylor Fritz, the highest ranked American man, and in the semifinals, he took on Ben Shelton, a rising young American.

The road to the final has been slightly bumpier for Medvedev than Djokovic. Two of Medvedev’s matches were pushed to four sets, in the second round against Christopher O’Connell and again in the fourth round against Alex de Minaur.

Medvedev’s’ toughest opposition came in the semifinals on Friday, when he played Alcaraz. After the first set went to a tiebreaker, it seemed like fans were about to settle in for a long night. But Medvedev dominantly took the second set, 6-1. Alcaraz won the third but could not gain more traction than that, sending Medvedev to the final.

Medvedev and Djokovic have been in a U.S. Open final before. Two years ago, Djokovic was looking to complete the calendar Grand Slam, having won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon all in one year (he also competed in the Tokyo Olympics that year, but did not medal and thus lost his chance for a Golden Slam).

All Djokovic needed to complete the Grand Slam was win the U.S. Open.

But Medvedev spoiled the party. Medvedev went on to win the 2021 U.S. Open final in straight sets, keeping Djokovic from completing the calendar slam.

The match was bizarre at times, and in it, Djokovic displayed emotions fans aren’t used to seeing. At one point in the third set, Djokovic covered his face with a towel and then appeared to begin crying and shaking, a sign of how much completing the calendar slam meant to him.

Medvedev said on Friday that Djokovic finds ways to improve after losses, making this year’s final more difficult.

“When he loses, he’s never the same after,” Medvedev said, referring to the 2021 final. “He’s going to be 10 times better than he was that day, and I have to be, if I want to still beat him, 10 times better than I was that day.”

Djokovic and Medvedev have played each other 14 times, and Djokovic has had the advantage with nine wins. Their most recent matchup was in March at a tournament in Dubai, which Medvedev won, 6-4, 6-4.

While Medvedev was able to spoil Djokovic’s shot at the Grand Slam in 2021, Medvedev acknowledged on Friday night that playing Djokovic won’t be easy.

“Novak is going to be his best version on Sunday,” Medvedev said. “And I have to be the best-ever version of myself if I want to try to beat him.”

Anytime Djokovic plays in a Grand Slam final, there is the potential for history to unfold. With 23 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic has surpassed Rafael Nadal, who has 22, and Roger Federer, with 20.

With Federer now retired and Nadal away from the game because of an injury, Djokovic has the chance to distance himself from his counterparts in the Big Three of men’s tennis. But Djokovic said on Friday night that he has tried not to focus too much on the numbers.

“I’m aware of it, and of course I’m very proud of it,” he said. “But again, I don’t have much time nor do I allow myself to reflect on these things.”

Djokovic recalled a similar historical weight when he lost the 2021 U.S. Open final, and said he doesn’t want that to happen again.

“I’ll try to just focus on what needs to be done and tactically prepare myself for that match,” he said.

Those who have been more focused this tournament on players like Frances Tiafoe, Carlos Alcaraz, and Ben Shelton, may have one big question on their minds when they watch Medvedev play: Why does he stand so far back from the baseline to return serves?

It might look like a disadvantage to Medvedev, but he uses the position in his favor. By standing so far away from the baseline, sometimes up to 20 feet, Medvedev gives himself more time to return the serve. He also uses the tactic as a tool to strengthen his positioning during the point itself; by starting far behind the baseline, he all but guarantees that he will move forward as the point develops.

The strategy, of course, has its cons. By standing so far back and taking more time, Medvedev leaves more court space open and gives his opponents more time to get into an advantageous position for their next stroke after the serve.


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