Emotional Novak Djokovic claims a victory he feared would never come in US Open defeat

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic with the US Open runner's up trophy

Amid his most bitter defeat, Novak Djokovic claimed the victory he feared would never come his way.

On a night when he dared to believe he could become a sporting immortal by securing a Calendar Grand Slam by adding US Open glory to the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles he had already won in 2021, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev shattered his dreams with a convincing 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory in the last major final of this remarkable tennis year.

This was as convincing a victory as anyone has inflicted on Djokovic in recent years and yet as the tears flowed for the world No 1 at the changeover before Medvedev served out the match to claim his first major title, the Serbian took solace from a moment that clearly touched him.

He may never again have a chance to complete a Calendar Grand Slam, but this was a night when he received the adulation of a New York crowd that has so often delighted in his misfortune down the years.

Djokovic has always been the pantomime villain in matches against his old foes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in New York and even in a year when he was reaching out for tennis history, the fans were often cheering for his opponent over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet on a night when Djokovic was beaten in a manner few believed was possible, the spectators inside Arthur Ashe Stadium rose to salute a great champion and salute his achievements as one of the game’s all-time greats.

This was a level of support that has often eluded him and while his army of devoted fans on social media persistently insist that Djokovic doesn’t need the support of the tennis public, this was an occasion that confirmed they are misguided in that assumption.

Everyone wants to be accepted in life and when you have achieved as much on and off the court thanks to his inspiring Novak Djokovic Foundation, the respect he has long been due has often been missing and as he gave a gracious speech on court, his words confirmed what this reception had meant to him.

“I was thinking in both scenarios, visualising myself standing here in front of you guys and what would I say,” said Djokovic. “I would like to say that tonight, even though I have not won the match, my heart is filled with joy and I am the happiest man alive because you guys made me feel very special on the court.

“You guys touched my soul. I have never felt like this is New York. I love you guys. Thank you so much for your support and everything you have done tonight for me. I love you and I will see you soon. Thank you.”

They were words delivered with raw emotion from a champion who has waited so long to get an ovation such as this in New York and maybe now that the pressure of the Calendar Grand Slam pursuit has gone, Djokovic will return to next year’s US Open with a very different vibe around him.

He is still highly likely to end his career with more Grand Slam titles than Federer and Nadal, yet this was a night when the gas tank was empty for Novak, with Friday’s semi-final against Alexander Zverev playing a part in that process.

This match has echoes of his 2013 Wimbledon final defeat against Andy Murray, as a long semi-final against Juan Martin del Porto drained his energy reserves and forced him to play a different game in the final, trying to keep points short and win in double-quick time.

Against an opponent of Medvedev’s class, Djokovic’s efforts to serve and volley his way to victory in this final were always likely to come up short, but he will come again and will be keen to claim revenge if he plays Medvedev in Grand Slam finals next year.

The debate over who is the greatest of all time is on hold for now and while will take some time to get over this defeat, Djokovic feels he a champion in the eyes of the US Open fans at last and that, clearly, was a prize that means so much to him. 

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