Daniil Medvedev made history at the US Open. He defeated Novak Djokovic in the final (6-4, 6-4, 6-4) and became the first player of the young generation to snatch a Grand Slam from the hands of the Big Three. It is quite possible that this victory will launch the latest wave of generational change in men’s tennis. Medvedev finally showed that the greats can be beaten in the finals as well.
The victory is also monumental because Djokovic lost a full match at a Grand Slam tournament on his favorite hard court for the first time since 2018. Since then, he has had losses on the clay, but only injuries and disqualification stopped the Serb on the hard. And now Medvedev, too.
It is also noteworthy how easily Daniil beat the great. Djokovic only took 12 games, a minimum in a full Grand Slam match since the 2007 Australian Open, where Federer only gave him 10.
How did this happen? There are two sides, as usual.
Medvedev was good at everything
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2021
- Serving was the mainstay. In the first set Djokovic was not ready for it at all; he only took three points, not even one on the first ball. During the tournament many rivals talked about how strong and, more importantly, accurate Daniil served. In the final game his serve did not let him down.
- And even with the second ball he periodically served powerful bombs under 200 km/h. It is a proven tactic that brought him victory in the Cincinnati 2019 semifinals. It worked in New York as well – he took 58% of the draws on the second ball, which is quite a lot against Djokovic’s receiving genius.
- Serving let him down only in the game, when Daniil served for the title – there were three double faults. But that’s nerves, not a systematic problem.
- Serve helped Daniil with quick attacks. But in the final game he was super-aggressive and wanted to win the singles himself.
- Medvedev was a counterattack. Gilles Simon before the final told us why Daniil is so dangerous even from defensive positions: “The ball from Daniil flies in a special way. The peculiarity is that it bounces very low. Medvedev shoots almost without rotation or even backwards. A low ball gives him an advantage in defense, because it flies for a long time. And you also have to play from under the net all the time, the ball always bounces low – and it’s hard to attack.”
- Because Medvedev was aggressive, his low ball was also fast, causing double problems for Djokovic. Daniil was often out of defense – he shot so deep from the corner that he seized the initiative.
- In general, Daniil was so strong on the back line that Djokovic tried to play on it as little as possible, so he often went to the net. But he lost a third of his draws there – again, a lot for such a master.
- His problem was that Medvedev and his low ball regularly forced him to play difficult shots from the air. Daniil is a stroke stroke genius, and he had excellent leg kicks in the final game to make the Serb play volley from under the net or even from half a flight.
- Daniil went to the net less often himself – he had the feeling that Djokovic dragged him there more often with drop shots because he didn’t want to shoot over the backboard. Medvedev lost half of his points at the net, 6 of 12.
- But we said that his ability to hit from the air was underestimated. Especially his favorite cut volley from the backhand.
Overall, Medvedev had a clear plan to play as aggressively as possible. His serve and other special elements of his game helped him execute that plan. And other favorite tricks helped him find answers to Djokovic’s countermeasures.
Djokovic wasn’t at his best
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2021
Djokovic clearly had a hard time with the weight of history hanging over his shoulders. At several points, it cost him dearly.
- In the second set, Medvedev battled back from 0:40 in the first game on serve. The first break point was a clear error by Djokovic. He comfortably caught up with a, frankly, bad dropshot, and had time to score tightly. He didn’t do that, gave Medvedev’s legs a chance – and they took it.
- And it wasn’t an isolated incident. Medvedev often went for dropshots in tense moments, and they often weren’t very good – the tension didn’t allow him to cut it out finely enough. But Djokovic played too soft, then he hit the net, then he hit a forehand. He had no clarity of thought or clean execution.
- On the third break point, at 1-0 in the second set, a long rally ensued – but not an exchange of heavy shots when you have to chase from corner to corner. It was a practice exchange in the middle of the court. Djokovic ended it with a sliding error and hit the net. Then he was beating himself because they didn’t put him under the ball. He had a lot of errors like that.
- At the net, Medvedev was giving Djokovic problems, but he also created them for himself.
- It was clear that Djokovic just can’t hit the ball as hard and as actively as he usually does. His greatness is his ability to move the ball around the court so fast that even the fastest players can’t keep up. To do that, he needs to meet the ball early and play tight.
Neither of those things worked in the final.
“I was below my level. My legs weren’t working. A lot of unforced errors. The serve wasn’t there. I was below my level in everything,” Novak said.
But then again, even with Djokovic’s poor play, he had chances to turn things around early in the second set. He missed part of them. But Medvedev won the other part with his great play.
The combination of the two factors made him the champion.
Daniil Medvedev vs Novak Djokovic Highlights | 2021 US Open Final