Grand Slam Stories: 1977 Wimbledon, The Unstoppable John McEnroe! - UBITENNIS
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Grand Slam Stories: 1977 Wimbledon, The Unstoppable John McEnroe!

Ubitennis presents a new segment that will be part of our journey to each Grand Slam event. We will share tales and stories about the four major tournaments that wrote the history of our sport. In this first instalment, we relive the summer of 1977, during which an unknown teenager from Brooklyn became the genius of modern tennis.

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By Raffaello Esposito

Damn it, how did that happen? Or at least, when? To many of us, events from forty-one years ago are almost ancient history. That’s when white tennis balls, tight shorts and wooden racquets were still the norm, and touch, talent and finesse made the difference instead of power. The Times They Are A-Changin’, Bob Dylan used to sing. In 1977, things were changing for good. Jimmy Connors was taking the game to levels of power and aggressiveness that were previously unknown, while Borg was hitting the forehand with top spin and adding a new dynamic to the two-handed backhand. The battle for the tennis throne was a duopoly between the Brash Basher of Belleville and the Swedish Iceman. But a third contender was about to rock the boat.  

 

A few months before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Wimbledon Championships, Brooklyn native John Patrick McEnroe Junior had just turned 18 and was getting ready to start his first semester at Stanford University. He had ginger hair, a great deal of tennis talent and a very controversial Irish temperament. In the spring of 1977, the United States Tennis Association allowed him to play a few tournaments in Europe. Before making the trip overseas, John turned to the coolest guy at the Port Washington Academy, where McEnroe was training with Harry Hopman and Tony Palafox as head coaches.

John’s confidant was also from New York and had a thick blond mane to go with his Lithuanian origin. A few months later, the world would start calling “Broadway Vitas.” These were his words:  “Here’s what’s going to happen on your first trip to the French—you’re going to play some guy from Europe that you’ve never heard of, and you’re going to get your ass kicked.”

John spent the evening before his departure with his long-term friend Doug Saputo. The two were unusually quiet, as if they felt that something was about to change and nothing would have ever been the same. It was a strange evening in limbo between the present and the future.

John landed at De Gaulle airport in Paris with a sports bag, five hundred dollars in his pocket and a bundle of racquets. He suddenly felt lost, like any teenage boy that finds himself in a foreign country. “I felt as if I was in a National Lampoon Vacation movie—Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo are eating their lunch in a restaurant; he’s saying, “God, honey, aren’t they nice?” and the waiter is saying (in French, with English subtitles), “You stupid American asshole.”

At Roland Garros, he won his last qualifying round after a sleepless night. The match was scheduled for 8:45 AM and he was afraid that he would not have woken up on time. “Could I be awakened?” I asked the man at the front desk. He answered me in French – “Screw you”, probably.

While competing in the main draw, John won his first round match with ease before falling to Phil Dent of Australia in the second round. During the five set clash with the Australian, McEnroe – who at that point was used to competing in smaller tournaments where players were in charge of the calls on their side of the court – learnt that the umpire and line judges could make tons of mistakes. “From the moment our match began, the line calls were abysmal. Dent would hit a shot that was in by six inches, and the linesman would call it out.”

McEnroe also tried to speak to his opponent during the match while questioning line calls. The Australian didn’t blink, avoided any sort of confrontation and won the match. As the two were shaking hands, Phil told John: “Sonny, this is the pros now. You play the calls, and if you have something to say, you tell the umpires.”

Dent wasn’t aware that his words would have been followed to the letter in a very painful way a few weeks later.

In Paris, McEnroe won the boys’ singles event in front of three spectators and also captured the mixed doubles trophy with his friend Mary Carillo. He spent the rest of his time discovering Paris, before crossing the English Channel and arriving in Church Road where “…at least the language seemed roughly similar to mine.”

London was more expensive than Paris and John shared a room with four other young players for three pounds a night. It was almost like an indoor camping site where the players’ diet consisted of pizza and ice-cream.

In the first round of the qualifying tournament at Queen’s Club, McEnroe’s match against his countryman Pat DuPré was moved to an indoor wooden facility due to the persistent rain. McEnroe used his great talent to dominate the first set, but at the beginning of the second a lady in the stands started to heavily insult him. The incident confused the young American, who ended up losing the match 7-6 in the third. John later found out that the lady was none other than his opponent’s wife. Everything happens for a reason. “What the hell. My loss to DuPre had actually turned out to be a great thing—had I made it in, I don’t think I would have had enough time both to play the tournament and to try to qualify for Wimbledon. So thank you, Mrs. DuPre!”

The qualies for the Wimbledon Championships were contested at Roehampton Club and it didn’t matter if the weather was sunny, windy or rainy. Mac was in big trouble during his final qualifying match against Gilles Moretton of France, but he emerged unscathed despite the rain and muggy conditions. Mary Carillo vividly remembers those days: “He was so great at improv, he had that amazing first step. As soon as I saw him on grass, I remember thinking to myself, ‘This could go very well.’ I just didn’t know how well.”

Once granted access to the Wimbledon main draw, players were allowed a reimbursement of sixty pounds a day. As soon as he qualified, John moved to the Cunard Hotel with Eliot Teltscher and Robert Van’t Hof. “We chose that hotel because it had two ice distributors”. At the time, you didn’t need a nutritionist or a masseuse to be a champion.

McEnroe absolutely shocked the Wimbledon main draw. Pictures from that magical fortnight show him a little chubby in his Fila outfit while he’s screaming “Are you sure?” to the umpire. His service stance was still frontal in 1977; he would have developed his trademark lateral stance a year later to safeguard a bad back. His impeccable timing and pure creativity were already in full display though.

El Shafei, Dowdeswell, Meiler and Sandy Mayer were swept aside by McEnroe, who advanced to the quarter-finals to face Phil Dent, in a rematch of their previous encounter in Paris. The two squared off on Court 1 in the afternoon of June 28, 1977. McEnroe didn’t seem to be intimidated by the occasion and captured the first set 6-4. Dent was the kind of player that never gave up and the Australian ended up winning the second set in an enthralling tie-breaker. As McEnroe walked towards his bench for the changeover, he literally broke his Wilson racquet in two and kicked it all the way to his chair. It was not something that could be tolerated at Wimbledon and the spectators started booing the young American. Dent almost couldn’t believe his eyes as he started to realize that he had probably created a monster.

The Australian took advantage of the situation and won the third set.  “It was definitely a tight spot, but then I took a deep breath and gathered my thoughts.” At this point, McEnroe showed his true champion quality and was able to capture the last two sets of the match, unexpectedly advancing to the semifinals.

No other player was able to reach the semis after advancing to the main draw through the qualifying tournament. McEnroe’s semifinal opponent was none other than James Scott Connors. In the lobby of the Gloucester Hotel – the home of the champions – McEnroe spotted the bookmakers’ odds for the tournament champion:

Borg 2-1

Connors 3-1

Gerulaitis 7-1

McEnroe 250-1

McEnroe probably lost half of his semifinal match in that very moment. The other half was lost in the locker room before the match. Connors was famous for approaching his tennis matches with a boxer’s mentality, as he felt that he needed to hate his opponent to play at this best. When John approached him before the match to greet him and shake hands, Connors pretended that McEnroe didn’t exist, picked up his bag and took off.

A few decades later, Supermac still recalls the thoughts that went through his mind: “Do I even belong here with this guy?” And so, at that moment, I pretty much decided I did not want to win this match. Don’t want to win”

While his Dad and Tony Palafox were watching him from the stands, McEnroe easily lost the first two sets and even if he captured the third, it was too late to prevent Connors from advancing to the final. Game, set and match Connors.

McEnroe avenged that defeat against Connors many times in the following years, while the fire brigades often had to intervene and extinguish the flames between the two.

Since that semifinal day in June 1977, McEnroe never had to be asked again if he was a tennis player. He went home and reconnected with his old friend Doug, while realizing that nothing would have ever been the same.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global – www.t-lglobal.com )

 

 

 

 

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ATP Moves Closer To Staging Five More 12-Day Masters 1000 Events After Board Approval

Changes are coming to the men’s Tour which includes a brand new ‘profit-sharing formular’ for players.

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Masters tournaments in North America, Europe and Asia are set to be expanded over the coming months after the ATP Board recently approved some ‘key aspects’ of their strategic plan.

 

In a letter issued to players, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said an agreement has been reached concerning a variety of topics, which include the expansion of various Masters 1000 events. It is understood that the plan is for Rome, Madrid, Canada, Cincinnati and Shanghai to be increased to 12-day events instead of just one week. Putting them more in line with Indian Wells and Miami. Tennis.com reports that under the new structure, ATP 250 events will also take place during the second week of those tournaments and they could receive a subsidy from the ATP Tour, provided by extra fees paid by the Masters tournaments.

Masters 1000 events are the third highest-ranked category events in men’s tennis after Grand Slams and the ATP Finals in terms of prize money and ranking points on offer. The series was first introduced back in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2009 that the name ‘Masters 1000’ was born. The number represents how many ranking points the winner receives.

Besides the proposed changes to the Masters series, the Board has also given a green light to “a new Profit-Sharing formula” and “long-term prize money levels.” The prize money increase is reportedly said to be 2.5 percent of a base level, plus a bonus pool with a 50 percent share of the collective profit of the Masters events.

“This represents significant progress for our sport and the way our player and tournament members operate under the equal partnership of the ATP Tour. It is only through the spirit of this partnership, transparency, and alignment of interests that we can truly maximise your potential and switch our focus to the competition we face in the border sports and entertainment landscape,” Gaudenzi wrote in his letter to players.

Part of the plan also include making changes to ATP Media, who are in charge of broadcasting the events. At present it is currently jointly owned by the Tour and each of the Masters 1000 events. However, in the future it has been proposed that those tournaments trade in their ownership rights for shares in ATP media. Exact details about this process have not been publicly disclosed and it is unclear if all of the tournaments would agree to such a move.

The ATP also wants to create a ‘Tennis Data Innovations’ which will be an independent entity.

All of these proposed changes are still subject to further agreement around additional matters. The ATP have been working on details of their strategic plan for the past 18 months.

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ATP To Make Changes To Toilet Break And Medical Time-Out Rules Ahead Of 2022 Season

Rule changes on toilet breaks and medical time-outs are set to be implemented before the start of the 2022 season.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas (@ToiSports - Twitter)

The ATP are set to make changes to the rules around toilet breaks and medical time-outs ahead of the 2022 season.

 

The issue of toilet breaks and medical time-outs has been long a discussion in tennis with players often accused of using the lenient rule concerning these two topics to gain an advantage using gamesmanship.

More recently this issue has flared up with Stefanos Tsitsipas accused of using eight minute toilet breaks to take the momentum away from his opponent just like he did against Andy Murray at the US Open.

The Greek has often denied that he has done it for those reasons and says he has not broken any rules.

However that might be about to change as an ATP source has told Reuters that there are discussions to change these rules next year, “There will be a change to the rules for bathroom breaks and on-court medical timeouts as well,” an ATP source told Reuters.

“I hope that before the next season begins in January, we will have a stricter rule when it comes to toilet breaks and medical timeouts. I think it’s getting to the point where it’s definitely becoming a big issue. It’s been an issue for a long time but we are taking quite a serious approach now to try and change it.”

Players such as Sloane Stephens and Alexander Zverev have also spoken out against the gamesmanship surrounding toilet breaks and medical time-outs.

Although Tsitsipas did get some support from world number one Novak Djokovic who doesn’t believe the Greek deserved the criticism that he got, “I’ve got to stand for Stefanos Tsitsipas,” Djokovic told reporters at the US Open.

“I don’t think he’s doing anything wrong. I support him. The rule is not clear. Of course you can argue it’s all relative, everyone sees it differently. This was a hot topic last couple of weeks. I think he didn’t deserve that much attacks that he was getting in the media from everyone.”

Changes are hoping to be made before the Australian Open in January which starts on the 17th of January.

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US Open, Medvedev Finds His Spot among the Greats, but Djokovic Is Not Done Winning Yet

The Russian can become a threat on every surface. The world N.1 couldn’t find his best game to clinch the Grand Slam, but won over the crowd like never before

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The cognoscenti of tennis have been waiting for a couple of years for Daniil Medvedev to place his name among the game’s elite performers as a champion at a Grand Slam event. Medvedev has been on the verge of this accomplishment for quite some time. Through the summer of 2019 and on into the fall, he made immense strides as a player of the front rank. In that span, he made it to the final of all six tournaments he played. Most importantly, he moved agonizingly close to establishing himself as the U.S. Open champion. Confronting none other than Rafael Nadal, Medvedev was down two sets to love and trailing by a service break in the third set but, stupendously, he nearly won that match and claimed that title.

 

Medvedev pushed Nadal into a harrowing five setter that stretched from late afternoon well into the evening. He even battled back from two breaks down in the fifth set and saved two match points before Nadal held on from 30-40 in the last game of a compelling contest to win 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. Medvedev had concluded 2018 stationed at No. 16 in the world but his stirring surge in 2019 enabled this estimable individual to reach No. 5.

The 6’6” Russian continued along his ascendant path in a stellar 2020 campaign. He made another spirited run at the U.S. Open crown, sweeping into the semifinals without the loss of a set before losing to an inspired Dominic Thiem. Undismayed by that setback, Medvedev was invincible at the end of 2020, capturing back-to-back titles as the Masters 1000 event in Paris and the year-end ATP Finals at London, where he went undefeated in the round robin event. Moreover, he ousted the top three seeds in that tournament—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem—and that was an unprecedented feat.

In that spectacular span of two tournaments and ten match victories in a row, Medvedev accounted for no fewer than seven wins over top ten players. By the time Medvedev reached his second Grand Slam tournament final at the start of this season, he had raised his total to 20 matches in a row. Many authorities believed Medvedev would make his breakthrough on that Melbourne stage and take his place as a major champion, thus underlining his authenticity.

But Djokovic denied Medvedev that prestigious prize, playing a masterful strategic match and executing it to the hilt, winning a ninth Australian Open with a comprehensive 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 triumph.

That setback took more than a little wind out of Medvedev’s sails. He did make some amends that could be construed as positive steps. Arriving at Roland Garros with a career match record of 0-4, Medvedev found some confidence on the red clay and went to the quarterfinals but, much to his chagrin, he was soundly beaten by Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Medvedev had toppled Tsitsipas in six of the seven head-to-head battles they had fought up until Roland Garros, so that setback had to be stinging.

On to Wimbledon went Medvedev, and once more he reached the fourth round of a Major. But he let a two-sets-to-one lead against Hubert Hurkacz still from his grasp in a two day meeting, falling in five sets. And yet, Medvedev did recover his form over the summer when he won the Masters 1000 title in Canada.

And so he came into the U.S. Open as the No. 2 seed, quietly confident and cautiously optimistic, a man on a mission. Medvedev took advantage of a favorable draw. He did not drop a set prior to the quarterfinals, but did struggle slightly against the Dutch qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp before winning 7-5 in the fourth set. But then he took apart No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in straight sets.

That win over the athletic Canadian took Medvedev into his third major final and his second in New York. To most avid tennis observers, it was a fitting way to settle the outcome of the last major in 2021 when it all came down to Medvedev against a man on an ineffable historical quest named Novak Djokovic.

The world No. 1 was coping with the kind of pressure that only a fellow of his extraordinary stature could possibly understand. Once he had captured his second French Open in June to put himself half-way to a Grand Slam, Djokovic had his mind fixated on that lofty goal. He went to Wimbledon not simply to win the world’s premier tennis tournament but to garner a third major in a row and go to New York in search of the last piece in the puzzle. No one in men’s tennis since Rod Laver secured his second Grand Slam in 1969 had taken the first three majors of the season to land in such lofty territory—one tournament away from a Grand Slam.

Surely Djokovic was informed by media figures and fellow players that only five players had ever taken all four major tournaments in a single year to win the Grand Slam. The first time it was done was in 1938, when the Californian Don Budge—owner of perhaps the best backhand tennis has ever witnessed—pulled off the remarkable feat. Maureen Connolly was next on the list in 1953, succeeding largely because her ground strokes were the best in the women’s game and her footwork was exemplary. The left-handed Laver—an incomparable Australian shotmaker— took his first Grand Slam in 1962 as an amateur and his second as a professional seven years later.

Next up was another Australian stalwart. Margaret Smith Court—a magnificent attacking player— realized her dream of the Grand Slam in 1970. Eighteen years later, it was Steffi Graf’s turn. The German with fast feet and explosive forehand was unbeatable at the Grand Slam tournaments in 1988.

So there you have it. No one since Graf has won the Grand Slam, proof of what a difficult task it is for both the men and the women. Keep in mind as well that some of the sport’s most luminous figures have never come close. To be sure, Roger Federer celebrated three seasons (2004, 2006 and 2007) when he was victorious at three of the four majors, but he never made it even half-way to a Grand Slam because he was unable to come through at Roland Garros in those years. The one year he won the French Open (2009) he had already lost to Nadal in the Australian Open final.

Nadal won the last three majors of 2010 in Paris, London and New York but he had been beaten at the Australian Open in the first one. The only time Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, he suffered his first loss at Roland Garros against Robin Soderling and the Grand Slam chance was gone. Djokovic himself managed to sweep four majors in a row from Wimbledon of 2015 through Roland Garros of 2016. That meant he was actually half-way to a Grand Slam in 2016 but he lost in the third round of Wimbledon to Sam Querrey so that opportunity evaporated.

Meanwhile, a small cast of players has won the first three majors of the year to stand within striking distance of a Grand Slam. The first one was Jack Crawford of Australia in 1933. He took the first three and then was in the final of Forest Hills at the U.S. Championships. He was only one set away from the Grand Slam but lost to the gifted Englishman Fred Perry. Similarly, the Australian dynamo Lew Hoad was also one match away from a Grand Slam in 1956 but his countryman Ken Rosewall knocked off Hoad in the Forest Hills final. And then in 1984, Martina Navratilova was the champion at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. At that time the Australian Open was the last major fo the season, and Navratilova was beaten in Melbourne by Helena Sukova in the semifinals.

And so Djokovic was surrounded by all of these historical facts as he came to the U.S. Open this year. The 34-year-old was seeking to establish himself as the oldest player ever to win a Grand Slam, and he navigated his draw well across an arduous fortnight in New York. At the U.S. Open, his anxiety was evident all the way through the tournament but time and again Djokovic overcome his difficulties and raised his game when he needed to.

In the first round he went into a tailspin in the second set against Danish qualifier Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune but romped in the end 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-1 as the teenager suffered with cramps. The Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor faced Djokovic in the second round and the top seed granted his adversary only seven games across three sets. 2014 U.S Open finalist Kei Nishikori took the first set from Djokovic before the Serbian beat him for the 17th time in a row 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. In the round of 16, the young American wildcard Jack Brooksby came out with deep intensity and Djokovic was unsettled, but the 34-year-old found his range in the second set and never lost it, winning 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Now in the quarterfinals Djokovic was pitted against the No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini. The flamboyant Italian had lost to Djokovic in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and again in the final at Wimbledon. Now Djokovic prevailed for the third time in a row against the big server 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

So the stage was set for Djokovic to play No. 4 seed Sascha Zverev, who was on a rampage. Zverev had won 16 matches in a row heading into his appointment with Djokovic, taking the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and then winning the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. In Tokyo, Zverev rallied from a set and a break down at 6-1, 3-2 but swept eight games in a row and ten of the last eleven to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.

But in New York, Djokovic played his best match of the tournament, turning the tables on the German. Djokovic rallied ferociously again to gain a pulsating five set triumph over Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in three hours and 34 minutes. In the fifth set of that scintillating encounter under the lights, Djokovic collected 24 of 30 points to open up a 5-0 lead. Although Zverev pridefully won the next two games, Djokovic finished it off with a third service break of the set in the eighth game.

Many of us expected Djokovic to repeat his Australian Open final round win over Medvedev in New York. No one was taking Medvedev lightly or assuming he would not put up the toughest possible fight. But Djokovic’s big match prowess and his vast experience on the premier stages was paramount in the minds of many experts. This was, after all, his 31st Major final, a record number he shares with Federer. Moreover, Djokovic has grown immeasurably across the years as a player who knows how to bring out his best on the biggest occasions.

He had won 12 of his previous 14 finals at the Grand Slam events heading into this U.S. Open.  Djokovic’s record was once 6-7 in the middle of 2014, but he then won 14 of 17 to put him at 20-10 in his career leading up to Flushing Meadows. That success rate made him the favorite at the Open to win a record 21st Major crown as well as realizing the most demanding goal of his career—a Grand Slam sweep of all four majors.

But it was apparent from the outset of his duel with the 25-year-old Russian that Djokovic was nowhere near the level he needed to be physically, mentally or emotionally. The first ominous sign was in the opening game of the match. Djokovic led 40-15 but he was coaxed into four consecutive errors and thus lost his serve immediately. Medvedev was clearly buoyed by that beginning, holding his serve at 15 for 2-0 with two aces. Djokovic then fell into a 15-40 hole by making his eighth unforced error of the young match. Although he won four points in a row and finished off that third game with two aces, Djokovic had not commenced this contest with the standard he needed to meet the moment.

Medvedev required only 47 seconds to hold for 3-1 by virtue of two aces, a service winner and a forehand winner. In his next three service games, Medvedev conceded only two points. Djokovic was not reading that serve at all and was slow to react whenever he did. Medvedev captured that set confidently, 6-4.

It was early in the second set that Djokovic found some openings that might have altered the course of the match had he exploited them. He reached 0-40 on the Medvedev serve but steered a forehand retrieve of a drop shot and was passed down the line off the forehand by the Russian. Medvedev released an ace for 30-40 and then Djokovic botched a backhand slice, sending that shot into the net. He was infuriated. Medvedev held on crucially for 1-1 with an ace followed by a service winner.

Djokovic saved a break point on his way to a 2-1 lead and then had two more break points in the fourth game, but Medvedev produced a low forehand drop volley that drew an errant forehand pass from the Serbian, and then saved the second break point with a backhand down the line deep into the corner that Djokovic could not answer. Medvedev made it to 2-2, broke Djokovic in the fifth game as the top seed put only one of six first serves in play, and then the Russian conceded only two points in his last three service games to wrap up the set 6-4.

Djokovic was clearly despondent. He was not simply below par as he would say later; he was way off his game in every respect. Medvedev rolled to 4-0 in the third and soon moved to 5-1. The capacity crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium was filled with Djokovic fans cheering him on vociferously, but they had little to shout about for most of the proceedings. Djokovic held on in the seventh game. Medvedev had a match point at 5-2 but served a double fault at 120 MPH into the net as the crowd callously applauded his mistake. He then served another double fault and Djokovic went on to break. When Djokovic held easily in the ninth game, the crowd’s applause for a man they had seldom supported was astonishing and much appreciated by the world’s best tennis player.

Djokovic shed tears into his towel at the changeover. Medvedev then served for the match a second time and released another double fault at 40-15. No one knew it then, but the Russian was fighting cramps, a fact he hid awfully well from his opponent and the audience. At 40-30 his first serve was good enough to force Djokovic to miss the return, and so Medvedev averted a potential crisis to defeat his rival for the fourth time in nine career clashes 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Medvedev had handled the occasion remarkably well and had tuned out the crowd with great discipline. For Djokovic the situation must have been both maddening and saddening. To have an audience so fervently behind him at one of the Majors is something he has rarely if ever experienced. But he struggled inordinately to find anything even resembling his best tennis. He approached the net 47 times in the three sets and won 31 of those points. He played serve-and-volley surprisingly well, taking advantage of Medvedev’s court positioning so far behind the baseline for his returns.

But Djokovic had neither the patience, the physicality or the inclination to stay back and grind with Medvedev the way he always has done. His legs were too weary, and his mind was cluttered. In the end he played into Medvedev’s hands. The Russian is among the most astute players in the sport to read the map of a match and adjust his strategy. Medvedevs’ shot selection, variation of speed and pace, and capacity to make Djokovic uncomfortable were first rate. Medvedev knew full well he was not playing the essential Djokovic, but he was performing in front of an antagonistic crowd and trying to pull off a first Major title. Those were not easy circumstances but Medvedev was able to deal with it ably. Medvedev did everything that was asked of him and more. He was thoroughly professional.

When it was over, Djokovic was very gracious and unwilling to drown himself in a sea of self pity. He lauded Medvedev and refused to make any excuses for his sixth defeat in nine U.S. Open finals against five different opponents.

There will never be another opportunity like this for Djokovic. He admirably put himself three sets away from the first men’s Grand Slam in 52 years. That can hardly be portrayed as a failure. Losing in New York will only make Djokovic more motivated for 2021 and the pursuit of a 21st Major title in Melbourne that would enable him to stand alone at the top of the list for most men’s majors and separate him from his co-leaders Federer and Nadal. He will turn 35 in May but Djokovic remains very young for his age. To be sure, he looked much older against Medvedev, but that was circumstantial. He has a lot of winning left to do.

As for Medvedev, this triumph at the U.S. Open should lead to many more landmark victories. Over the next seven years, he should be good for at least five or six more majors, and perhaps a larger number than that. The key to where he ends up will depend to a large extent on his adaptability. Medvedev has proven irrefutably that he is a prodigious hardcourt player and that will put him in good stead at both Melbourne and New York year after year. But can he demonstrate a larger self-belief on grass and clay courts?

To be sure, he did well this year with his quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros. But he will need to prove that he can do more damage than that on the red clay of Paris and the lawns at the All England Club. Had he finished off Hurkacz this year in London, Medvedev would have almost surely made the final and played Djokovic there. Had he managed to overcome Tsitsipas in Paris, he might have gone to the final there.

The view here is that Medvedev will make inroads on the other surfaces and be a threat everywhere in the years ahead. The 2021 U.S. Open was a launching pad for a competitor with a wide range of goals and deep determination. He will often be going to other lofty destinations in 2021 and beyond.

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