Novak Djokovic’s bid for history as the first man to complete the Grand Slam in 52 years is over.
Tears were to be expected – win or lose – as the weight finally lifted. The World No. 1 had come up one victory shy of equalling Rod Laver’s feat, beaten in Sunday’s US Open final by a red-hot Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Since his 2015 Wimbledon triumph Djokovic had won 12 of his past 14 Grand Slam singles finals, losing only to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros last year and Stan Wawrinka at Flushing Meadows in 2016. The chance to pull clear of his Big Three rivals with a 21st major championship would have to wait.
Despite the bitter disappointment, there was relief the pursuit of the Grand Slam had ended. There was also high praise for his conqueror and gratitude to the crowd on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Of course, part of me is very sad. It’s a tough one to swallow, this loss, I mean, considering everything that was on the line,” Djokovic said. “But on the other hand I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The crowd made me [feel] very special. They pleasantly surprised me.
“The amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever. That’s the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. It’s as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That’s how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special.”
Victory over Medvedev in the Australian Open final in February had set the wheels in motion and when success followed at his toughest Slam, against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Roland Garros final, the chase was on. A sixth Wimbledon trophy kept the dream alive and while Alexander Zverev brought hopes of a Golden Slam to a halt in Tokyo, slowly but surely Djokovic closed in on the final Sunday in New York.
Nerves would invariably come into play for Medvedev as he attempted to serve for his first major championship and Djokovic stepped up. He saved a match point on the Russian’s serve and pegged back one of the breaks – his first of the match – to stay alive.
He would need his seventh career comeback from two sets down – his second this year after the Roland Garros final. There was a grin to the crowd and a tap of the heart as Djokovic roused the crowd and closed to within a game of levelling the third set but any comeback was quickly snuffed out after two hours and 17 minutes.
“Full credit [to] his mentality, his approach, his game, everything. He absolutely was the better player and deserved to win, no doubt about it,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m disappointed with the overall game that I performed today. I know I could have and should have done better.
Medvedev Stuns Djokovic For US Open Title
“But it’s sport. You win some, you lose some. It’s a tough loss, very tough loss. But at the same time I’m happy for him because he’s a nice guy and he deserves it. He really does.”
Djokovic had spent five hours and 35 minutes longer on court than his opponent. He had gone five sets with Zverev in the semi-finals and four sets in four of his five previous matches, but his exhaustion was not merely physical.
“I had more hours on the court spent [than] Daniil, that’s for sure. But it was also emotionally a very demanding period for me in the last five, six months – Slams and Olympics and playing at home in Belgrade.
“Everything was coming together for me here and kind of accumulating all the emotions that I’ve been through… Of course, I was short today for another slam title, but I have to be proud with everything that my team and I have achieved.
“And in tennis we learn very quickly how to turn the next page. Very soon there are some more challenges, more things that are coming up. I have learned to overcome these kind of tough losses in the finals of Slams, the ones that hurt the most… I still love this sport and I still feel good on the court. As long as there is motivation and that flare, I’ll keep riding.”