Novak Djokovic wins U.S. Open for his 24th Grand Slam title
NEW YORK - Novak Djokovic emerged from an exhilarating and exhausting U.S. Open final with a 24th Grand Slam title on Sunday night, using every ounce of his energy and some serve-and-volley guile to get past Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a match that was more closely contested than the straight-set score indicated.
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.
"It obviously means the world to me," said Djokovic, who will return to No. 1 in the rankings on Monday.
There were moments, particularly in the 1-hour, 44-minute second set that was as much about tenacity as talent, when Djokovic appeared to be faltering. After some of the most grueling 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. After one, he dropped to his back on the court and stayed down for a bit as the crowd roared.
He allowed Medvedev to come within a single point of taking that set while returning at 6-5. Djokovic rushed the net behind his serve, and while Medvedev had an opening for a backhand passing shot he did not come through.
That was a key adjustment: When Djokovic was looking more bedraggled, he turned to serve-and-volleying, not his usual sort of tactic, to great success. He won 20 of 22 points he played that way, and 37 of 44 overall on the points when he went to the net.
This triumph against Medvedev, the opponent who beat him in the 2021 final at Flushing Meadows to stop a bid for the first men's calendar-year Grand Slam in more than a half-century, made Djokovic the oldest male champion at the U.S. Open in the Open era.
"First of all, Novak, I want to ask: What are you still doing here? Come on," Medvedev joked during the trophy presentation.
Djokovic's fourth championship in New York, where he was unable to compete a year ago because he isn't 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.
When it was over, Medvedev tapped Djokovic on the chest as they chatted at the net. Djokovic flung his racket away, put his arms up and then knelt on the court, with his head bowed. And then the celebration was on. First he found his daughter for a hug. His son and wife came next, along with his team.
Soon, Djokovic was donning a shirt with "24" and "Mamba Forever" written on it as a tribute to the late NBA star Kobe Bryant, who wore that jersey number. And on top of that went a white jacket with the same significant number stamped on the chest.
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 No. 1 in the rankings on Monday, overtaking Alcaraz, who was the defending champion at Flushing Meadows but was eliminated by No. 3 Medvedev.
At the start 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.
His exemplary movement good as ever, every stroke just so, Djokovic came out as his best self. He grabbed 12 of the first 16 points - three via aces perfectly placed, and with pace, and four via exchanges that lasted 10 strokes or more - along the way to leads of 3-0 and 4-1.
Medvedev, in contrast, seemed tight, jittery, the looping swings of his white racket breaking down repeatedly, whether on a trio of double-faults in the opening set or during the lengthier points, other than on one 37-shot back-and-forth that ended when Djokovic blinked, stumbling as he flubbed a backhand.
Beyond that, though, Djokovic was as reliable as a metronome, anticipating nearly everything headed his way and scurrying this way and that to retrieve and respond, as is his wont.
And the fans sure were appropriately appreciative, which has not always been the case over Djokovic's career. On this afternoon-into-evening, support came from thousands, not only the folks invoking his two-syllable nickname while chanting, "Let's go, No-le, let's go!" or those in his guest box, including Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, one of many A-listers on hand.
When he got to set point in the first on a miscue by Medvedev, Djokovic showed his first real bit of emotion, raising a fist and turning to the corner where his entourage had jumped to their feet. When another Medvedev miss ended the set, Djokovic simply exhaled and strode to the sideline.
He relies on analytics and what a foe's tendencies are. He leans on instinct and a masterful ability to read opposing serves and groundstrokes. On Sunday, his blue shoes carried him right where he needed to be, more often than not, and his flexibility - turning, bending, contorting, stretching, sliding, defending with his back to the net, even - allowed him to keep the ball in play, when required, and create flip-the-switch offense, too, if desired.
Medvedev plays a similar type of tennis, and their mirror images would elongate points for 25 shots, 35 shots, more.
Was Djokovic perfect? No. But, wow, he came close in sections, and he was absolutely good enough throughout to win, as he so often is.