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Novak Djokovic's Grand Slam bid fails as Daniil Medvedev wins US Open | RSN

It had to be Daniil, didn’t it? The long, brash Russian seemingly spent the past two years gearing up for just this moment, playing to the whims of various audiences and knocking on the door of his first Slam title without ever kicking it entirely in. He had very openly been thinking about it, and since Dominic Thiem finally broke through the Big Three née Four’s hegemony with his first Slam title at Flushing Meadows a year ago, it seemed that Daniil Medvedev would soon enter the chat himself.

Djokovic v. Medvedev, the top two seeds facing each other, was the logical end, and the one that most wanted: even after Novak’s dressing down of Daniil in straight sets in Melbourne in January, there was a feeling that the latter was gearing up all along for another match with the current best player on the planet. He got it, and with nothing less than a calendar Slam on the line.


Only fitting, then, that it was like this: the 2021 US Open men’s final featured two players with aggressively robust profiles of their respective relationships with the crowd. Novak Djokovic, whose career is a longform letter to performatively not giving a fuck while the alternative is very obviously the case, arrived in New York with three Slams in hand this year already. He had a shot at the calendar Slam, something last accomplished by Steffi Graf in 1988 and by a man, Rod Laver, in 1969.

All of it, really, was fitting, from their respective top seedings to the injury-related absences of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic’s year has been one of transcendence: transcending opponents, critics, an ongoing global health crisis, your own personal opinion of him, etc.

That Djokovic immediately emerged as one of the faces of defiance when uncertainty abounded certainly didn’t afford him any credibility, and his early-2020 tour of his native Serbia, as well as the rhetoric he espoused contemporaneously, made him a target, not altogether unfairly. Here was a man who was seemingly placed on this planet to play tennis, just about better than anybody before him. What else should anyone worry about?

A lot, as it turned out, but even with Novak’s own contraction of the disease, he remained unnerved. He had won the 2020 Australian Open in traditional fashion, knocking off Thiem in a continuance of the era of elder respect for which men’s tennis likely did not plan. Though he went winless at majors for the remainder of the year, his omnipresence as the robotic Serbian demigod of hard courts and otherwise lingered.

The return win in straight sets over Medvedev at this year’s Aussie Open made it clear that he was fine; more than that, his victory over a somewhat hobbled Nadal in the final at the French Open revealed that Novak Djokovic was serious about this whole “best ever” thing, after years of tirelessly chasing Federer and Nadal in both numbers and public opinion[1].

Medvedev had made the splash two years ago, in a public challenge to the crowd and to Rafael Nadal himself that he would not back down. His combination of wisp and wire made him a compelling figure on-court, and his pushing back against public favoritism in any direction turned him into a viral hero. Americans, in particular, tend to gravitate toward someone doing well who asks them in response: “What do you want me to do?”

Djokovic struggled – and is still struggling in some circumstances – under the weight of trying to fulfill the crowd’s obligations. He can eat grass, and win; he can play technically perfect tennis, and lose; he can succeed and fail, somehow, just like everybody else. Why didn’t they like him?

Until a few years ago, this was an idea central to Novak Djokovic’s career arc. He had earned it! Why didn’t they see it? “I have as many majors as their beloved Feds and Rafas. They are inane; I am resplendent.”

With this year’s pursuit of the calendar Slam, however, fans took to Nole: it had been a long-turning tide that he finally and fully flipped. History takes precedence, even when nobody is going to be left to speak on the lasting relevance of it all.

Daniil Medvedev, though, was having none of it: it took barely a set and a half of exceptional pushes from the upstart to push Djokovic into smashing a racquet, drawing the judge’s warning in the process. Medvedev plays frustrating tennis by nature, and he catered it specifically to perhaps the most frustrating tennis player ever is objectively funny, even if it hadn’t worked.

But it did, and it kept working. Djokovic entered the match having dropped first sets in four straight matches before coming back to win; he didn’t even bother taking a single set in this final, even after laughing during a changeover. John McEnroe read ESPN production credits in the third before the broadcast crew pondered whether Djokovic thought he had a comeback left in him. “In his ultimate heart of hearts,” one unidentifiable McEnroe brother said, “I think he does. 80% of him doesn’t.”

You don’t get to be Novak Djokovic without fervently believing that everything you are doing, in that specific way, is correct. It has worked out for him in ways it will never work out for the rest of us. On this Sunday, though, it did not: in the shadows of the teenage wunderkinds who impressed on the women’s side, he had to know something was coming, eventually. Daniil Medvedev played, specifically, Djokovic’s game better than the man himself could. Anybody in pursuit of history will be able to appreciate that either way, eventually.


[1] After the match, his opponent admitted that he had Medvedev won over, for whatever that’s worth.

Novak Djokovic wins French Open in dramatic comeback

It’s one thing to win a Grand Slam in the first place – to be physically gifted enough from the start, to train hard enough to be the best tennis player in your town, and then your region, and then your country, and eventually the world, at least for a moment. To do that once is a monumental feat, a testament to all the things we’re told we should aspire to cultivate.

On Sunday, Novak Djokovic won his nineteenth singles title and second French Open championship. Nevermind that he is now only one behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men’s record for career Slams – he had to beat Nadal, the clay king and thirteen-time champion at Roland Garros to do it, and then overcome a two-set deficit, something he’d never done in a Slam final, to Stefanos Tsitsipas. All the while, he never looked in doubt.

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Photo courtesy of moi

On a breezy August evening, one perfectly fit for briefly forgetting both the sweltering summer and its miserly, frozen, hibernating kin, I sojourned to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens to take in the selected offerings from the first round of this year’s US Open. Specifically, three players – Rafael Nadal, Aryna Sabalenka and Nick Kyrgios – offered their assorted splendors to varying degrees, making for predictably excellent tennis. There are worse ways to turn the night into the morning.

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Saeed Khan/AFP

On many more occasions than is worth counting throughout this Australian Open, announcers made mention of how hot it is, how hot it’s gotten, how hot it can be. All of us know this all the time, increasingly, even in the sullen cold of a North American East Coast early morning in January. When it’s cold, we pine for the heat; when it’s hot, oof, maybe the cold isn’t that bad, actually.

In leaving behind what I imagine is the world’s most-discussed small talk topic, we broach the actual tennis. Seven years ago, on this very court, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battled over five sets and nearly six hours, culminating in a Djokovic win but what Rafa referred to in the interim as the greatest match he ever played.

Who knows how the Spaniard feels about that assessment now, but it would be hard to imagine him bestowing such an honorific on his showing in this year’s final. With Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory, the Djoker claimed his seventh title in Melbourne and his third consecutive major. The heat never bothered him anyway.

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Resilience is a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, we admire and commend it, a necessary tool in every aspect of life at some time or other. We see it in others and say, “Wow, I’m not sure I could’ve recovered from that like that.” On the other, needing it at all reveals a prior shortcoming, if not an outright failure, or an unknowable psychological trauma, either of the self-imposed or externally-driven variety. In some cases, it’s both.

The 2019 Australian Open women’s final, between Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova, was one of mutual resilience. Each player carried something into the match, and with each point, it seemed to weigh ever more heavily. When Osaka finally prevailed over Kvitova, and everything else, to win 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, it seemed that the relief of not having lost was all that was keeping her upright on the podium.

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Photo courtesy of moi

“Ladies and gentlemen, due to the humid conditions, Millman is going to change his attire.”

In the middle of the second set on during the men’s quarterfinal at the US Open on Wednesday night, with his opponent, Novak Djokovic, up a set already, unseeded John Millman took a precautionary measure with regard to his attire. He was sweating through his shirt, his shorts and maybe his shoes and hat, and he wasn’t going to stand for it anymore. For all intents and purposes, it’s been the story of the tournament in Flushing Meadows: the heat is just too damn hot.

The weather is a clichéd topic, one befitting casual acquaintances at a party while waiting for someone better to arrive, anyone who rides public transit at any time and Al Roker. At best, it should merely be tertiary fare for the final Grand Slam of the year. Yet, it has defined many of the matches so far, including Millman’s shocking, four-set upset of Roger Federer in the round of 16. Mother Nature would not sway Novak Djokovic so easily.

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Fate of the Rebel Flag, William Bauley (1861)

It’s a curious thing, this American exceptionalism. It always has been, even before we inadvertently and loudly made this country the most exceptional nation in the world this side of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and even that bit is becoming questionable. Ego begets ego, and the hot air balloon rises seemingly infinitely, toward the clouds, toward the moon, toward the fully-visible sun. In any case, it’s getting away from here.

Every country is exceptional from the jump, at the most basic level. Any country can be exceptional in a next-level, “people are discussing this thing’s exceptionalism to a tautological degree in a bar over high-ABV motor oil right this second” sense. The logical next phrase there should’ve been “if it tries hard enough,” but then, that’s part of what got the United States into this in the first place, constantly feeling like the lights were turned on an hour ago, but you’re still at the aforementioned bar.

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three.

When he found himself down a set to 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, 36-year-old Roger Federer did not blink. As if staring directly into a sun of his own creation, Federer assessed his odds of survival and took to relying on the things that have gotten him by for so long: namely, an unparalleled control of proceedings and measured daring. Tiafoe dared the 19-time Grand Slam champion on numerous occasions, but the risks he took ended up being for naught, at least this time.

With a Roger Federer first round proceeding, the story becomes a narrative unto itself: how does Fed reveal himself, slowly, unsuspectingly, to a tennis public that has witnesses his every move, jut, turn and pivot? Even having abandoned this period of the previous calendar year, Federer remains a captivating sight for the tennis audience, especially those in New York, who yearn to watch perfection reach its most perfect, even under the most relenting of circumstances.

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Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

“It can be cruel, sometimes.”

This is how Roger Federer, 2017 Wimbledon men’s champion and an eight-time winner at the All-England Club, summarized the tournament run of his opponent in the final, the Croatian Marin Cilic, but he may as well have been talking about any aspect of reality. You wake up, you check Twitter, you catch up on the overnight happenings of a world spinning increasingly out of control, you agonize at the absurdity of things, and then you see Roger Federer’s name trending. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But it’s Federer, who, in defeating Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday morning to finish off a totally spotless Wimbledon in which he did not drop even a single set, that keeps you grounded in reality, even at 35. That isn’t to say tennis can’t be weird, or that Wimbledon as a whole wasn’t – on the contrary, this year’s edition served some of the strangest notes and outcomes in recent memory. But all of that is just noise, the subtle details in an otherwise all-white outfit befitting of a 19-time Grand Slam champion.

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Stan Wawrinka poses with the trophy after his match against Novak Djokovic.

USA Today

The English poet Francis Quarles, noted paraphrase royalty, once wrote, “The way to bliss lies not on beds of down, And he that has no cross deserves no crown.” As was more or less his M.O., and the standard run of play in seventeenth century literature, he was drawing largely from The Bible, though you could be forgiven if in a vacuum you thought he may have been discussing the rise of Stan Wawrinka, 2016 U.S. Open men’s champion.

Four sets: that’s all Stan Wawrinka needed to upend Novak Djokovic in the men’s final of the U.S. Open, which he captured in a magnificent 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 win that elicited some of the best shot-making either player has ever flashed. Once an underperforming prodigy, Wawrinka is now, against most well-meaning odds, a three-time major champion as well as, for the moment, the king of New York.

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