Medvedev came hurtling out of the blocks on a day when the only man ahead of him in the rankings was targeting history, hitting back from 40-15 to break Djokovic – who had won the toss and opted to serve first – in the first game, then breezing through to take the opening set 6-4 in just 36 minutes.
The tension boiled over for Djokovic, perhaps understandably, in the fourth game of the second set, when a technical glitch appeared to gift Medvedev another first serve after the score had reached deuce.
All was not well with the world number on, whose zen calmness in his immediate pre-match interview transformed into an uncharacteristic rigidity on the court. This was his chance to clinch the Grand Slam, having won in Melbourne, Paris and London.
At one point, Djokovic appeared to be slapping his calves in what could have been interpreted as an attempt to allay stiffness or fatigue.
Djokovic pulled back just as he motioned to hit a ball in anger after a frustrating point, causing an approaching ball girl to flinch but thankfully avoiding any risk of a repeat of last year’s fiasco that saw him disqualified from the tournament after accidentally hurting a line judge.
With Medvedev on his way to holding serve to make it 2-2 in the set, Djokovic hammered his racket to the ground three times in an act of theatrical obliteration, receiving a warning and apologizing to the crowd for his troubles.
Worse was to come when Medvedev then immediately broke him courtesy of some seamless shot-picking and threatened to do so again in Djokovic’s next service game.
Medvedev produced several stunning shots in a brutal rally to subsequently hold serve, sending Djokovic haring back and forth across the court, returning shots at full stretch in that familiar style which usually proves telling.
His opponent, this time, was ready and full of the tactical astuteness he is renowned for. Djokovic did not have enough moments of inspiration to rescue the set, losing it 6-4.
When Djokovic finds himself in these scenarios, there often seems an inevitability that the machine will slip back into unstoppable mode. Not so here.
Medvedev broke immediately at the start of the third set, possibly feeling as surprised as the rest of the stadium when, at deuce in the next game, Djokovic fired a routine shot into the tape after advancing to the net when a winner seemed on.
With beads of sweat sliding from the faces of both men, everything seemed to be going Medvedev’s way. He held serve after Djokovic had again looked menacing at the net, then won the first point of his opponent’s next service game on his way to opening up a 30-0 lead.
The last Russian player to win a Grand Slam crown, Maria Sharapova, was watching on. That long wait since her French Open triumph in 2012 was about to end, although the 2006 US Open winner was undoubtedly in the minority of fans supporting Medvedev despite the man of the hour’s popularity.
Djokovic received roars of approval as he showed signs of recovery. Ultimately, though, the five-set specialist seemed spent, losing points with the unnerving regularity with which he usually accepts the smallest of opportunities.
Generosity from the other side of the net was only half of the story, but it was no surprise when Medvedev, on a glorious roll, broke again to make it 3-0.
The result never looked in doubt until Medvedev had championship point at 5-2. His nerves took hold, the celebrity-crammed crowd threw their verbal weight behind Djokovic, and a glimpse of one of those dramatic comebacks the 20-time Grand Slam winner can pull off was briefly visible with the break.
An emotional-looking Djokovic could not summon more heroics on his next return of service. Medvedev, deservedly, added his name to Marat Safin’s in 2005, and Russia, at last, has another male US Open champion.
“I’m so nervous saying my speech,” admitted Medvedev, who finished his address by mentioning the buttons for a victory celebration on the popular FIFA computer game series.
“I want to say sorry for you, the fans, and Novak, because we all know what he was going for today.
“What you accomplished before and during your career – I never say this but, for me, you are the greatest tennis player in history.
“Today, maybe, there was a little bit more support for Novak but that’s understandable. Your energy, starting from 2019, helped a lot.”
Daria Medvedev grinned in the stands. “It’s the third anniversary for me and my wife today,” revealed Medvedev. “During the tournament, I couldn’t think about a present or anything.
“Before the semifinal, I thought, ‘if I lose, I have no time to get a present.’ I love you, Dasha.”
Djokovic was tearful again as he spoke. “Congratulations to Daniil – amazing match, amazing tournament,” he said. “If there is anyone who deserves a Grand Slam title right now, it’s you.
“You have an amazing team. You are one of the greatest guys on the tour. We get along very well. I wish you many more Grand Slam titles, many more majors.
“I was visualizing myself in both scenarios, in front of you guys and what would I say.
“Even if I did not win, my heart is full of joy because you made me feel very special on the tour.
“You touched my soul. I’ve never felt like this in New York. Thank you so much for your support. I love you and I’ll see you soon.”
© 2021, paradox. All rights reserved.