Novak Djokovic, the last man standing in the Big Three, showcased his unwavering dominance in the world of tennis as he capped off his Grand Slam season by reaching the U.S. Open final. This marked his fourth consecutive appearance in a major final in 2023. Despite being 36 years old, Djokovic displayed no signs of slowing down and was set to face Daniil Medvedev, a 27-year-old Russian, at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In the semifinals, Djokovic easily dispatched American Blake Shelton in straight sets, prolonging the drought for U.S. men at the U.S. Open. The last time an American man won the singles title was in 2003 when Andy Roddick emerged victorious. This victory for Djokovic in 2011 marked the start of his incredible journey towards becoming one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
Medvedev, on the other hand, secured his spot in the final by stunning world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the previous round. As the underdog against Djokovic, Medvedev faced an uphill battle, especially considering Djokovic's recent victories at the Australian and French Opens. Djokovic's French Open triumph was particularly significant as it marked his 23rd major singles title, surpassing his long-time rival Rafael Nadal's record of 22 Grand Slam titles.
Throughout his illustrious career, Djokovic's name has always been mentioned alongside fellow tennis titans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have amassed 20 and 22 Grand Slam titles, respectively. While Federer retired from major competition last year, there have been speculations about Nadal potentially following suit. This U.S. Open final would be a crucial moment for Djokovic to further solidify his status as the greatest player of his era.
The championship title match was set to be played in warm conditions, providing relief from the brutal weather that plagued this year's tournament. The temperature was expected to be in the high 70s, with a real-feel of the low 80s when the first ball was served. However, there was a potential issue for Spectrum TV subscribers, as ESPN and other Disney properties were pulled from Charter Communication's Spectrum due to an ongoing carriage fee dispute. This meant that millions of viewers might miss out on watching the men's final.
As the final began, Djokovic demonstrated his mastery of the game. His 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 victory over Medvedev showcased his unwavering focus and determination. Although the scoreline might not convey the intensity of the match, it was a hard-fought battle between the two competitors. Medvedev fought valiantly, but Djokovic's calmness and precision during crucial points proved to be the difference.
The second-set tiebreaker was a defining moment, with both players refusing to give an inch. Medvedev seemed to gain momentum by winning a rally of mid-court half-volleys and drop shots, taking a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. However, Djokovic responded with remarkable strokes, ultimately winning the tiebreaker and the set, setting himself up for a straight-sets victory.
The third set showcased Djokovic's dominance, with his every move eliciting roars from the crowd. Even in moments when he lost a point, Djokovic captivated the audience with his remarkable play. With a 5-2 lead, Djokovic displayed incredible athleticism, diving unsuccessfully for a ball after expertly maneuvering Medvedev around the court with powerful forehands. As Medvedev hit the ball into the net, Djokovic fell to the ground, his head down in a mix of grace and disbelief.
This victory held a special significance for Djokovic, as it avenged his loss to Medvedev in the 2021 U.S. Open. Last year, Medvedev ended Djokovic's dream of achieving a calendar-year Grand Slam, a feat that hadn't been accomplished in men's open competition since 1969. While Djokovic fell short of completing a Grand Slam this year after his defeat at Wimbledon, his win at the U.S. Open allowed him to end the season on a high note.
After the match, Djokovic displayed his admiration for the late NBA player Kobe Bryant. He donned a “Mamba Forever” T-shirt, featuring a photo of Bryant and himself, and wore a Lacoste jacket with the number 24, symbolizing both Bryant's influence and Djokovic's numerous major titles. Djokovic revealed that he had come up with the idea of the "24"-themed apparel during the tournament when he believed he had a good chance of winning. He expressed his gratitude towards Bryant for supporting him during his injury struggles and helping him rise to the top of the tennis world.
In his speech to the crowd, Djokovic shared that his journey began with a childhood dream of becoming the best player in the world. With his latest triumph, he has undoubtedly achieved that goal and solidified his place among the all-time greats of tennis.