Daniil Medvedev claimed his first career title in New York as he denied Novak Djokovic the US Open for the first time since 2008 in an enthralling final.
Djokovic had four title opportunities on his radar this season and the Serbian needed to overcome Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open semi-finals to have a chance of clinching No.5. That was the only match the 13-time grand slam champion lost all year before he returned to Flushing Meadows to win again in August.
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It was in New York last month, though, that Djokovic suffered his most disappointing defeat of the year as he went down 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 to Damir Dzumhur in the first round, ending his run of 14 consecutive wins, a record dating back to the quarter-finals of the French Open.
The Serbian appeared to be back on course to break his grand slam drought for the third time on Wednesday when he came from a set down to beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals but the 27-year-old, playing in his first final at Flushing Meadows, faced an altogether tougher examination from Russia’s Medvedev.
Medvedev stunned the former Wimbledon champion and world No1 Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and against Djokovic’s better opponents had a better chance than the Serb to win on Wednesday.
But the Russian hung in there with a courageous display of backhand power to claim the biggest scalp of his nascent career. It ended Djokovic’s hopes of retaining his crown, with the American levelling his record for titles at grand slams.
Medvedev, ranked 27th in the world, was the underdog to the Serb and unlike on Monday when he felt down and out after being an early break down in the third set, he refused to fold.
He held serve to win the first set, which he had lost all three previous times the pair had met. Djokovic had won their last meeting in the final at Toronto in August but Medvedev was firing on all cylinders and went on to win the next five games.
For a brief moment in the fourth set after Djokovic served for the match he seemed to be in for a banana skin as his opponent broke for 3-3, but that only served to fuel the Serb’s motivation and he went on to break back to level at 5-5 and then did it again with a stunning forehand winner after losing three successive points.
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It was all too good for Djokovic, who had a sore right elbow for most of the season that disrupted his progress this year.
But the 30-year-old, fighting fit having made a remarkable comeback from elbow surgery in February, could not hold off Medvedev in a thrilling decider. After Djokovic saved a break point at 3-3, Medvedev broke again at 4-4 with a fine pass. The Russian was far from done, though, holding serve to level at 5-5 and when he saved two more break points at 6-6 his tally of tournament wins was matched by Nadal.
But Djokovic failed to serve out the match and Medvedev earned another chance when the world No1 hit the net with his backhand. He did not need long to make the most of it, stepping in at the second opportunity to take the second set.
Djokovic was exhausted and he, too, appeared to be starting to drop a second serve and his body language was even more somber. The Serb held to love at the start of the third set but a poor forehand wide gave Medvedev another break point and he converted the chance with a forehand winner.
It was hard to read the final with both players unable to commit to taking winners, although it turned out to be the better tactic as Djokovic dropped his serve for the fifth time.
The Russian then saved four set points at 4-5 to ensure Djokovic’s wait for a US Open title continued. He saved another break point at the start of the fourth set but he was 5-4 down after two late winners from Djokovic and that was his last real moment of glory.
Djokovic finished with a little grace, finishing a love game with a killer drop shot, but the match was already in the bag.