The first time: On Daniil Medvedev's stunning win at U.S. Open

The US Open saw new champions as Djokovic failed to keep his date with history

September 14, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

Daniil Medvedev’s stunning straight-sets victory over World No.1 Novak Djokovic brought the curtains down on one of the most eventful editions of the US Open in recent memory. In the lead-up, the script was laid out perfectly — of Djokovic trying to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Majors of the year and securing a record 21st Grand Slam title to take him past Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the all-time tally. But Medvedev flipped that narrative with an astonishing display of power and creativity to secure his maiden Major trophy in his third final. The 25-year-old appeared the better player coming into the match. But to beat someone so skilled at turning pursuits of history and record-breaking feats into prime driving forces should count among the greatest of achievements. Medvedev is an unconventional counter-puncher, in that he has a blistering serve. On Sunday, the Russian ensured that one of the greatest returners of the modern era could not lay as much as a racquet on many serves, and remarkably, left the master of lateral baseline movement doubting his own patented game. The physical and emotional toll of the past fortnight was evident in the way Djokovic wept towards the end, with the only solace to be had from the notoriously fickle New York crowd finally warming up to him.

Things might have seemed straightforward for Djokovic. Nadal and Federer were absent and he had beaten a rising star for each of his last three Majors, including Medvedev in a lopsided contest in Australia. But to overcome three of them in succession — here Matteo Berrettini, the Wimbledon finalist, Alexander Zverev, who beat Djokovic en route to the Tokyo Olympics gold, and Medvedev — proved beyond him. This is the kind of challenge that also awaits Federer and Nadal — more advanced in their careers than Djokovic — as they plot their return amidst growing evidence that the next generation is ready to contend. The women’s game, more amiable to the young and the fledgling, still managed to surprise as 18-year-old British qualifier Emma Raducanu triumphed over an equally unheralded Canadian teenager, Leylah Fernandez. For Raducanu , whose only previous appearance at a Slam was at Wimbledon 2021 where she capitalised on a wild card and reached the fourth round, to go three full weeks without losing a set was astounding. Fernandez should hold her head high too, for she beat two former champions in Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, and two top-five players in Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka, all in three-setters. Raducanu’s technically solid game and Fernandez’s lefty flair can only be worthy additions to the fascinating mix of playing styles that adorns women’s tennis.

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