In my first article on this topic, I argued that slams won and performance in slams are the key criteria for being the modern-era tennis GOAT.
Rod Laver’s status as the last man to win all four major titles in the same calendar year remains intact, after Daniil Medvedev stunned Novak Djokovic in straight sets on Monday morning to break through for his maiden Grand Slam title.
Going into the men’s championship match at Flushing Meadows, all the talk centred around whether Djokovic could achieve tennis immortality and not only sweep the Grand Slam calendar, but also stand alone at the top of the Grand Slam tennis mountain with a 21st title.
He was hoping to break a tie with career rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most major men’s singles titles, with the three most celebrated men in the sport holding 20 titles each.
Standing in his way was Medvedev, who was appearing in a major final for the third time and was determined not to make it third time unlucky after losing to the Djoker in the Australian Open final earlier this year, and to Nadal in five sets in the 2019 US Open final.
The Russian had spent five-and-a-half hours less than his opponent on court in the six lead-up matches and dropped just one set along the way, to Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp in the quarterfinals.
Upon defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime in his semi-final, Medvedev also promised to bring the heat in the championship match after admitting he didn’t play as well as he would’ve liked at Melbourne Park in February.
By contrast, Djokovic only won one lead-up match in straight sets, and in four consecutive matches from the third round to the semi-finals lost the first set including being stretched to five sets in an enthralling final four clash against Alexander Zverev.
With the burden of history on his shoulders, many feared or anticipated that the Serb would fall short in his quest to sweep the Grand Slam calendar year, something that hadn’t been achieved by a man since Rod Laver in 1969.
Steffi Graf, in 1988, was the last person to sweep the Grand Slam calendar year; further, she also won the gold medal at the Seoul Olympics, making her the only person to ever achieve a golden calendar slam.
Here at the US Open, two wheelchair players would join her in illustrious company, but more on that later.
Medvedev set the tone for the match, breaking the Djoker in the opening game, before consolidating for a 2-0 lead. He very nearly made it a double break, but the Serb would save two break points to get on the board for 1-2.
Following that, the Russian would hold his serve in a 47-second fourth game, and would not face a break point as he won the first set 6-4, despite double-faulting at one point in the tenth game. It marked the fifth consecutive match in which Djokovic lost the first set.
The 34-year-old held to start the second set and held three break points in the second game, but Medvedev would not relent, holding for 1-all.
At 2-1, the Djoker again had a break point opportunity, but after sending a forehand return wide, smashed a racquet in frustration and copped a code violation for his troubles.
He double faulted to start the fifth game, then fell behind 3-2 after Medvedev secured a break of serve; the Russian would hold the advantage to the end of the second set, taking it 6-4 and edging ahead by two sets to love.
This left Djokovic to have to mount a comeback from two sets to love down if he was to keep his calendar slam alive. He had been in that position before this year, recovering from that deficit to overhaul Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final back in June.
But as soon as Medvedev secured a double break in the third set, there was no coming back from the Djoker, and the Russian had the chance to serve for the title at 5-2.
He would reach championship point, but would cough up a double-fault and then his serve thanks to consecutive unforced errors. Djokovic held in the next game to make it 5-4, giving the 25-year-old another chance to serve it out.
Again he reached championship point, but again he double-faulted, as errors started to creep in. Then, after just over two hours, Medvedev would convert on his third chance after Djokovic netted a return, collapsing to the court in disbelief.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2021
Thus, after two previous defeats in two major finals, the Russian had finally mounted the Grand Slam dais, becoming the first man from his country to win a major title since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open, and to triumph at Flushing Meadows since Safin in 2000.
He also became just the second man born in the 1990s, after Dominic Thiem’s victory at last year’s US Open, to win a major title, and the fifth man (after Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka) to beat the Djoker in a major final.
Born on February 11, 1996, Medvedev has also eclipsed Thiem (born September 3, 1993) as the latest-born men’s major champion; in addition he also joined the Big Three, as well as Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Thiem as active major men’s champions.
Djokovic’s defeat denied him what would’ve been a record-breaking 21st major men’s singles title, and his eleventh defeat in a major final also means he now has the same record as Roger Federer in 31 major men’s singles finals (20-11).
The 34-year-old was in tears before and during the post-match ceremony, though it was dissimilar to how emotions got the better of Federer after he missed the chance to equal the then-record for the most major men’s singles titles held by Pete Sampras at the 2009 Australian Open.
Djokovic’s defeat is nearly parallel to how Serena Williams missed her chance for a calendar slam in 2015, when she was upended by Italian veteran Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals of the US Open; she had achieved a non-calendar Serena Slam for the second time going into that tournament.
Instead, the Djoker finishes the season with a 27-1 record at the majors this year, equal to his record from 2015 (his only loss that year being to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final).
He does, however, remain the most recent man to win four consecutive majors, doing so between Wimbledon 2015 and the 2016 French Open inclusive.
Assuming both Federer and Nadal are able to gear up for the start of next season, next year’s Australian Open will provide a major subplot as the most celebrated trio in tennis tussle it out for that elusive 21st major singles title.
This was the second consecutive year in which both Federer and Nadal chose to bypass Flushing Meadows due to injuries, though in Nadal’s case last year he chose not to travel to America over coronavirus concerns.
In the wheelchair quad singles final, Dylan Alcott became the first man to achieve the golden calendar slam, defeating Niels Vink in straight sets to cap off a dominant season which also included winning the Australian and French Opens, Wimbledon and the Paralympic gold medal.
Having credited the Paralympic movement for saving his life, the 30-year-old also credited tennis with doing the same and giving disabled people a world platform on which to perform.
Wow – Golden Slam officially complete.
I cannot believe it. We did it. We actually did it! pic.twitter.com/pncMvs8tgc
— Dylan Alcott (@DylanAlcott) September 12, 2021
He was later spotted inside Arthur Ashe Stadium enjoying some beer which he drank from his trophy during the men’s championship match.
Alcott became the second person to achieve a golden calendar slam this year, after Diede De Groot defeated Yui Jamiji in straight sets to win the wheelchair women’s singles component earlier in the day.
Both are the first people to do this since Steffi Graf in 1988, and the first wheelchair players to do so.
In the women’s doubles, Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai defeated the all-American pairing of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally in three sets to win their second major title together after also triumphing at the Australian Open in 2019.
It came sixteen years after the Australian, 37, won the doubles title with Lisa Raymond in 2005 and a decade after she stunned Serena Williams to win the women’s singles title in 2011.
Defeat for Gauff and McNally denied them the chance to join Emma Raducanu as teenage winners in the senior components of the tournament; had they won, Gauff, 17, would’ve become the youngest player to win a major in either singles or doubles since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004.
And that’s all she wrote at this year’s US Open, where we have seen two new champions emerge at the same major for the first time since the 2004 French Open, when Gaston Gaudio and Anastasia Myskina claimed their only titles at the clay court tournament.
Congratulations to Daniil Medvedev, who on his third attempt has finally claimed his maiden major title, and to Emma Raducanu, who has made history by becoming the first qualifier in tennis history to win a major title.
Commiserations to Novak Djokovic, who will surely have another chance to win a record-breaking 21st major men’s singles title, and to Leylah Fernandez, whom I’m sure we will continue to see a lot of in the years to come.
This year’s tournament also saw the successful return of crowds to Flushing Meadows, after they were locked out last year over COVID-19 concerns. Fans attending this year were required to have proof of vaccination before entering the grounds.
We have also now reached the end of the Grand Slam season, with the four-month countdown now on to the 2022 Australian Open, which could be pushed back again, like it was this year, though this is dependent on what the COVID-19 situation is at the time.
I hope you have enjoyed the US Open and my comprehensive coverage of the tournament over the past fortnight.