There is still one more match to go before Novak Djokovic can make history by becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the calendar Grand Slam by capturing the U.S. Open final on Sunday.
And Daniil Medvedev will be standing in the way.
“I think from my side, of course if I can make this I’m probably [going] to be in the history books a little bit somewhere for not letting him do this,” Medvedev said after his straight-set victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime, but before Djokovic survived Alexander Zverev in five. “But I don’t really care about that. I think it’s more about him, that it affects him.
“From one side, for sure he’s going to feel the pressure a little bit about it, already. From the other side, that’s what is going to make him be even better in tough moments.”
Djokovic was pushed in this one, forced into a deciding set by Zverev, who had defeated the Serb in the Tokyo Olympics and thus eliminated the possibility of a Golden Slam. But after dropping the fourth set, Djokovic roared back and dominated the final set with a pair of early breaks en route to 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
The 34-year-old had more staying power than his 24-year-old foe. He was typically robotic on the court, maintaining laser focus while Zverev had moments of visible frustration that coincided with the multiple times Djokovic painted the lines.
This one ended later than 11:00, just about five-and-a-half hours after Medvedev left the court following his 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 victory over the 12th-seeded Canadian. By the way: Medvedev has lost one set through the first six rounds of this championship, while Djokovic has dropped six. Every little bit helps.
“In a way it’s definitely been smooth,” said the second-seeded and second-ranked Medvedev. “You know how Grand Slams are — even if you get to the final without leaving a set, all the matches are going to be tough in their own way.
“It’s never easy, but I’m happy that I managed to save a lot of physical abilities, physical power and mental power. I mean, I don’t think anybody is capable of winning a slam after playing, let’s say, five sets in the first three rounds. I doubt this has ever happened. So this is important. I’m really happy I managed to make it kind of fast.”
Laver, the legendary 83-year-old Aussie who was barred from playing majors from 1963 through 1967 because he had turned pro in advance of the Open Era, was in the house for both semifinals and received rousing ovations when he was shown on the Stadium screen.
The Rocket won the Slam twice, he won 11 majors, and who knows how many he might have won of the 20 he was not allowed to enter during his days of dominance?
One thing is for sure, though. If Djokovic had been stopped on Friday by Zverev, Laver would not have raised a glass to toast his record the way the members of the 1972 undefeated Super Bowl champion Dolphins do whenever the final unbeaten NFL team loses a game. A bit too much class for that.
This, too: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal may not be here, but the absence of the twin 20-slam winners will not diminish Djokovic’s historic feat — if he can achieve it. For in order to get there, and coincidentally enough win his 21st career major to break the current three-way deadlock at the top, he would have beaten No. 4 Zverev and No. 2 Medvedev.
No shortcuts to the crown here. No shortcuts to history.
Medvedev, who was beaten in straight sets by Djokovic in the Australian Open final, is in his second U.S. Open final in the last three years after losing a spectacular five-set match to Nadal in 2019. That was the tournament in which the Russian feuded with the crowd pretty much throughout the event. That was then. This is not then.
“Two years ago was a completely different tournament,” said the 6-foot-6 righty, who is seeking his first major title. “First of all, the story with the fans. This year didn’t have anything. There were some crazy matches, some crazy turnarounds. I was cramping in the second round. I tore my quadriceps against [Stan] Wawrinka. This year, I didn’t have those unbelievable stories.”
This year, Medvedev can write his own unbelievable story. This Sunday, Medvedev can stand in the way of history.
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