There are a lot of ways to win in tennis. Novak Djokovic has found all of them. Coco Gauff may yet one day, though she found the one for this US Open. While Djokovic has had to vary his game at various points to overcome various challenges, at the base of it all remains the same truth as the day he showed up. It’s almost impossible to hit the ball past him, and he almost never misses.
That was on full display in Sunday’s men’s final, just as it was when Gauff ran down everything Aryna Sabalenka had to offer on Saturday and eventually turned the latter’s brain to mush. Djokovic’s opponent, Danil Medvedev, presents a lot of the same problems as Djoker does, generally standing in Row H of the first deck to return serves and most of the groundstrokes against him. His game might be bigger at times than Djokovic’s, but it’s based on his incredible defense and unerring groundstrokes.
But so few are going to out-grind Djokovic. Arguably there’s only two men on the planet who have done it, at least at a Grand Slam. That’s Rafael Nadal, whose body is showing the wear from doing so, and Carlos Alcaraz at Wimbledon in July, whose body hasn’t had the chance yet.
This final was just about two very stubborn, very flexible, very determined players eyeballing each other. And even though Djokovic won in straight sets, it still took him nearly three and a half hours to do it. The pinnacle of this pit fight was the second set, taking nearly half the time of the whole match that Djokovic won in a tiebreak. It has leg-draining, soul-questioning rallies like:
It wasn’t tennis so much as an endurance contest mixed with a staring one, with a dash of a rugby scrum thrown in.
Medvedev got only three chances to break Djokovic, and only took one of them. Even with how hard he made Djokovic work, and he really did, the now 24-time Grand Slam champ never bent, much less wilted. Medvedev can claim to be one of the men who stopped Djokovic at a Slam, beating him when Djoker was going after the calendar Grand Slam two years ago, but that looks more and more like an anomaly now. The one time Djokovic actually looked exhausted, and played like it.
Medvedev hit that exact moment after the second set tiebreak, as Sabalenka did early in the second set Saturday, where it becomes clear that they’v realized there’s no way through. They can be patient as possible, careful as possible, wait for their moment, and the person on the other side of the net is just going to keep getting it back. And they’ll aim for smaller and smaller targets and windows, hug closer and closer to the lines, until the dam bursts. The errors pile up, the break chances get taken, and it’s all over.
Who knows where this stops for Djokovic. It was at this point in Federer’s and Nadal’s career that their bodies started to go on them. The only thing that’s gotten in Djokovic’s way, really, is his own stubbornness, either running afoul of vaccine laws in Australia and the US or accidentally hitting a linesperson with a ball after a frustrated smash after losing a game in 2020. It’s a metronome.
Djokovic can do so much on the court. His serve has greatly improved. His forehand has become equal the weapon that his backhand has always been. He’s much better at the net than he gets credit for and when he needs to be. He’s the greatest returner the game has ever seen. But sometimes, it all gets back to the fact that for some tournaments, a ball just can’t be hit past him. Get the ball back all the time, generally good things happen.
-Couldn’t agree more:
-To Geno Smith reacting just about how all of us would seeing Aaron Donald charging at us:
-And now to our hero of the week.
Ok ,yeah, just a charity match but that’s being prepared.
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