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Daniil Medvedev in 2021: First Grand Slam title, emerging rivalry with Djokovic

Daniil Medvedev was the only man to beat Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam event this year, his victory in the US Open final giving him a first major title and he ended the year as the world No 2

Daniil Medvedev, Tennis Majors 2021 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

After a great end to 2020 (winner of the Rolex Paris Masters and the ATP Finals), Daniil Medvedev has just completed the best season of his career. It included his first Grand Slam, collected thanks to a superb victory over world No 1 Novak Djokovic in the final.

Medvedev’s ranking at the end of 2020: 4
Medvedev’s ranking at the end of 2021: 2
Medvedev’s 2021 win-loss record: 58 – 13
Medvedev’s titles: 4

BEST GRAND SLAM RESULT: HIS FIRST US OPEN TITLE

Daniil Medvedev has fulfilled his dream – and that of every player on tour. After reaching two Grand Slam finals (US Open 2019, Australian Open 2021), Medvedev triumphed in his third attempt at the US Open where he also stopped Novak Djokovic in the final, in three short sets (6-4, 6-4, 6-4) and 2h16 of play. The Serb had won the first three Grand Slams of the season and was one win away from achieving the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev, US Open 2021 (c) AI / Reuters / Panoramic

BEST PERFORMANCE: HIS WIN OVER DJOKOVIC IN US OPEN FINAL

The most remarkable performance of 2021. The most resounding, in any case. At the US Open, Djokovic was chasing the calendar Grand Slam. The world No 1 had already won the first three majors of the season but Medvedev shattered the Serb’s dreams.

In the final, he crushed Djokovic in three sets (6-4, 6-4, 6-4), on an Arthur Ashe court that had already been won over by the world No 1. The Russian will be remembered as the man who prevented Djokovic from becoming the first man since Rod Laver, in 1969, to win all four majors in one year.

From the start of the match, the world No 2 responded to Djokovic in kind. He took the first set but winning the first set against the Serb never guarantees victory; after all, he had dropped the first set four times earlier in the tournament. Medvedev confirmed his advantage, though, in the second set. He saved five break points, his face cold, impassive. Djokovic broke down: first by breaking his racket, then by falling into tears on his chair in the third set.

The Russian, unstoppable in defence and clinical at the net, went on to win his first Grand Slam under the weight of history, although probably not as heavy for him as the occasioon was for Djokovic.

MEDVEDEV’S BEST MOMENT OF SEASON: HIS CELEBRATION AND COMMUNION WITH NEW YORK CROWD

Medvedev’s celebration is already legendary (in gaming circles, at least). The “dead fish” celebration, in homage to the football video game FIFA, was greeted and applauded (“I had been preparing it since Wimbledon”) by the Flushing Meadows crowd, the same audience that had criticised him two years earlier.

Soaking in the applause after his triumph, Medvedev was no doubt reminded of the whistles he was subjected to during almost every match two years ago. “You have no idea how strong you make me feel,” he told the crowd that day in a provocative sequence that has become a cult.

Last September, the New York crowd may not have been completely on his side in the final, either. “But I’m not mad at you, that’s normal,” joked the Russian after the match. I love you guys! All week you gave me so much energy!” All is forgotten, then. “I’m sorry for all the fans,” Medvedev breathed after beating Djokovic, before turning to the world No 1. For me, you are the greatest player in history.”

MEDVEDEV’S “WORST” MOMENT: CLAY, “THE WORST SURFACE IN THE WORLD”

It’s nothing new: Daniil Medvedev doesn’t like clay courts. This was apparent (again) this season. In Madrid, in May, the Russian fell in the second round, beaten by Cristian Garin (6-4, 6-7, 6-1). The following week, he was eliminated from the Rome tournament by Aslan Karatsev in two short sets (6-2, 6-4).

“Do you like being in the dirt like dogs?” he said, during the second set, calling clay: “the worst surface in the world”.

Do you like being in the dirt like dogs?

Daniil Medvedev about the clay

At the end of April, during the fourth edition of the UTS, which was played on clay for the first time, he declared that he “sucks on clay”. The world No 2 had just been defeated by Taylor Fritz. However, he found some form and belief at Roland-Garros, where, having never previously won a match, he went all the way to the quarter-finals, before being stopped by Stefanos Tsitsipas (6-3, 7-6, 7-5).

OFF-COURT: MEDVEDEV’S NEW CHAMPION STATUS

Medvedev took to Instagram with his sponsor Tecnifibre to talk about his new status as a Grand Slam winner:

“There are fans who come up to me and I’m always thinking, ah, does he recognise me? Does he want a picture?”

Daniil Medvedev

“When you win a Grand Slam, it’s clear that your fame increases,” smiled the 25-year-old Russian. “After that, for the moment, it’s going well. I haven’t seen any paparazzi in front of my house! That’s the advantage of living in Monte Carlo. On the other hand, I must admit that I am confronted with new situations. There are fans who come up to me, and I’m always asking myself: “Ah, does he recognise me? Does he want a picture? It’s all about finding the right balance between being a champion and the everyday life.”

HIS SELF-ASSESSMENT: “I WANT MORE”

In this live interview for Tecnifibre, Medvedev said he was “satisfied” with his year. Apart from his first Grand Slam title, the Russian won the Masters 1000 in Canada, reached the final of the Rolex Paris Masters and the season-ending ATP Finals. “Of course, you always want more,” he admitted. But there are 20, 25, 30 tournaments a year. We’ve never seen someone win every match. We all know we can lose some. I had four titles this year, and of course I want more. I’m focusing on becoming a better player, trying to win more tournaments.”

Before the US Open, he said he wanted to make sure “the Big 3 stops at 20 Grand Slams each”. He has (so far) succeeded.

TENNIS MAJORS’ VIEW

In September, just before the US Open, Medvedev’s psychoanalyst, Francisca Dauzet, told Tennis Majors that the Russian was endowed with “monstrous mental potential”. He proved it magnificently, all year long, until his first Grand Slam victory. His looseness, his phrasing, his sometimes unorthodox style won over the tennis world, including the New York public.

His rivalry with Djokovic has become a classic this year. The world’s No. 1 and No. 2 players have met three times in the final: at the Australian Open, the US Open and the Rolex Paris Masters. The result: two wins to one in favour of the Serb. See you in 2022.

Novak Djokovic congratulates Daniil Medvedev on his US Open victory – USA TODAY

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