Novak Djokovic has emerged from an exhilarating and exhausting US Open final with a 24th Grand Slam title, using every ounce of his energy and some serve-and-volley guile to beat Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a match that was more closely contested than the straight-set score indicated.
On Sunday, Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, moved one major singles title in front of Serena Williams to become the first player to win 24 in the Open Era, which began in 1968. Margaret Court also collected a total of 24 but 13 of those came before professionals were admitted to the Slam events.
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There were moments, particularly in the one-hour, 44-minute second set that was as much about tenacity as talent, when Djokovic appeared to be faltering. After some of the most gruelling points – and there were many – he would lean over with hands on knees or use his racket for support or pause to stretch his legs.
This triumph against Medvedev, the opponent who beat him in the 2021 final at Flushing Meadows to stop a bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam in more than a half-century, made Djokovic the oldest male champion at the US Open in the Open Era.
Djokovic’s fourth championship in New York, where he was unable to compete a year ago because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, goes alongside his 10 trophies from the Australian Open, seven from Wimbledon and three from the French Open, extending his lead on the men’s Slam list.
Rafael Nadal, who has been sidelined since January with a hip problem that required surgery, is next, with 22; Roger Federer, who announced his retirement a year ago, finished with 20.
As good as ever, Djokovic went 27-1 in the sport’s most prestigious events this season. The lone blemish was a loss to Carlos Alcaraz in the final at Wimbledon in July. Djokovic will rise to number one in the rankings on Monday, overtaking Alcaraz, who was the defending champion at Flushing Meadows but was eliminated by the number three, Medvedev.
At the start on Sunday, with the Arthur Ashe Stadium retractable roof shut because of rain in the forecast, Djokovic was comfortable as can be. No sign of the occasion weighing on him, no trace of the tension he acknowledged briefly arose late in his semifinal against unseeded American Ben Shelton.
While Djokovic and Medvedev are intriguing figures, neither has been fully embraced by the New York crowds.
Certainly, there was little of the electricity that crackled through Arthur Ashe during the women’s final on Saturday, with no clear support for either player from an attentive but subdued audience.
As expected in a contest featuring the sport’s two premier hardcourt players, almost every point was contested with long rallies as both men pounded away at each other from the baseline.
Djokovic came out playing with purpose and applied pressure right away, breaking the third seed at the first opportunity on the way to a 3-0 lead.
That would be the only break Djokovic would need against a surprisingly flat Medvedev who could not manufacture a single break chance in the first set.
During a marathon one-hour and 44-minute lung-bursting second set, Medvedev would find life forcing a tiring Djokovic into long grinding point, after grinding point.
But the tireless Russian’s hard work would pay no dividends, unable to convert any of his few break chances including one at 6-5 that would have given him the set.
Medvedev charged in front 3-1 of the tie-break but again could not land the knockout blow as Djokovic came off the ropes to take it 7-5, with a 2-0 lead.
If there is one thing Djokovic possesses, it is a killer instinct, and the Serb wasted no time breaking Medvedev to go up 3-1 in the third.
A defiant Medvedev answered with his first and only break of the match but it was not enough, with Djokovic hitting right back with another break and then holding serve the rest of the way to clinch the title.
A jubilant Djokovic shared his thoughts.
“It obviously means the world to me [winning the US Open],” he said. “I am living my childhood dream to compete at the highest level in the sport. It has given me and my family so much.”