There have been 14 previous tour-level meetings between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, but there may be only one in the back of each player’s mind as they step out Sunday on Arthur Ashe Stadium to compete in the US Open championship match.
Medvedev’s straight-sets victory in the 2021 final at Flushing Meadows is not only remembered as the moment he lifted his maiden major trophy. With his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win, he also denied Djokovic a historic calendar-year Grand Slam. The 27-year-old is not counting on a similar outcome this time around.
“I think the only way I can use [the 2021 final] is thinking that Novak, when he loses, he’s never the same after. He’s different. It’s just a different mentality,” said Medvedev on Friday night after downing top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals. “That’s why he has 23 Grand Slams, [all those] Masters 1000s and weeks at No. 1.
“So I have to use it knowing that he’s going to be 10 times better than he was that day, and I have to be, if I want to still beat him, 10 times better than I was that day. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
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Medvedev in action against Carlos Alcaraz on Friday in New York. Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
After narrowly missing out to Alcaraz in the final at Wimbledon, the calendar-year Grand Slam is not on the line this time around for Djokovic in New York. Yet his triumphs this year at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, which took him past Rafael Nadal to a record 23 major men’s singles titles, have placed him in history-setting territory at every major he enters regardless.
“I understand every time in a Grand Slam final, it’s another shot for history,” said Djokovic after easing past #NextGenATP American Ben Shelton in the semi-finals. “I’m aware of it, and of course I’m very proud of it, but I don’t have much time, nor do I allow myself to reflect on these things or think about the history too much in this sense. When I did that in the past, like the 2021 final here, I was maybe overwhelmed with the occasion and the opportunity, and I underperformed.
“I don’t want this to happen again, and I’ll try to just focus on what needs to be done and tactically prepare myself for that match.”
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Aside from a thrilling five-set comeback win against Laslo Djere in the third round, Djokovic has cruised to his record-equalling 10th US Open final this fortnight without dropping another set. The 36-year-old’s return game has been in particularly fine fettle throughout and appeared to deal with Shelton’s lefty thunderbolts with ease on Friday. Yet Medvedev will still feel his delivery could be the key to getting on top of the Serbian as he looks to improve his 29-5 US Open record.
“I tend to play aggressive, fast, I serve well,” said Medvedev when asked about possible reasons behind his strong showings over the years at Flushing Meadows. “Probably the speed of the court helps me. For example, Indian Wells, that I got to the final was amazing, because I basically can’t hit the ball there. It has nothing to do with my forehand, so I beat some good guys there, some good matches, but as soon as I got someone like Carlos with his style of play, it was kind of over for me.”
Faced with an opponent equally as comfortable settling in for extended rallies, Djokovic may look to exploit Medvedev’s renowned deep returning position by moving forward to try and score quick points. The Serbian has enjoyed success against Medvedev’s unique gamestyle in the past — Djokovic holds a 9-5 Lexus ATP Head2Head series lead against the World No. 3 and has won four of the pair’s five previous tour-level meetings.
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Medvedev can look to the most recent of those clashes for confidence, however. The 27-year-old downed the Serbian in straight sets in the Dubai semi-finals in February, a win that came in the midst of a 19-match winning streak on hard courts across February and March. Again, however, Medvedev is wary of a Djokovic hungry for revenge.
“Against Novak, it’s the same. He is always better than the previous time he plays,” said Medvedev, who has only beaten Djokovic in consecutive matches once (Monte-Carlo & Cincinnati, 2019). “For example, I beat him in the US Open final [in 2021]; he beat me in Bercy in a great match. Carlos beat him at Wimbledon; [Novak] beat him in Cincinnati.
“Novak is going to be his best version on Sunday, and I have to be the best-ever version of myself if I want to try to beat him.”
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Djokovic and Medvedev’s focus for Sunday’s final may be taking their final chance for Grand Slam glory this season, but the result will also have big implications for the race to finish as year-end No. 1. If Medvedev triumphs, he will move within 1000 points of both the Serbian and Alcaraz in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, setting up an intriguing three-way battle for the final few months of the season.
Yet preventing Djokovic from winning three majors in a calendar year for the fourth time will be some task: The Serbian, who is guaranteed to usurp No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings from Alcaraz on Monday, enters the match with a 26-1 record at the majors this year.
“I’m obviously over the moon with the results so far on Grand Slams,” said Djokovic. “Playing in all four finals of all four Slams in a season is amazing. It’s the highest achievement I can think about when I start the season. That’s what I dream about, that’s what I really wanted, that’s where I want to be, in this kind of position.
“There is another match left, so of course this conversation will be probably even better if I win the title. But definitely whatever happens, I’m extremely proud and content with what I have achieved this year in Grand Slams.”