The loss or the win — however the fuck you want to see this match (you can’t have it both ways).
This was an extraordinary match. We didn’t expect such an outcome. But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
Extraordinary. No other way to describe how this men’s final unfolded. Novak had literally nothing left. Is that what we saw? The fittest and best Bo5 player simply ran out of gas? This is compounded by the fact that Medvedev had all sorts of energy, having lost only a set all tournament (against a bunch of riff raff). You can go look-up the time-spent on court that the media flash about and sure Novak had simply more time and more difficulty getting through his draw than did the Russian.
So is that the take-away? Novak was too tired, too spent to take-on this fresher player?
The guessing will always be there with this match, this failure to achieve the CYGS. I am guessing now even as I write this. I want to say his form was off. I didn’t watch every match of Novak’s in its entirety, but I saw most. The best form, no question, was in that QF match with Berretinni. His play in those final three sets seemed to indicate that Novak was going to another level for the SF and F. His ROS was ruthless, against a big serve from the Italian. His ground strokes were sharp, at angles that spoke in that elevated form, a language many have seen and heard Djokovic speak; his defense-to-offense echoed some of his greatest form that can shut-down the best players while practically hitting them off the court, as well. A ruthless form. Novak appeared to have that quality as he moved-on from that QF.
We should also keep in mind that he spent a lot of energy in that first set with Berretinni. Go back and look. The first set lasted about an hour. Novak was drenched; there was that typical first set nervy tennis from the Serbian great. Those final three sets seem to have erased that difficulty. But if the prevailing theory is Novak ran out of gas at this Open than the first set of the QF is more significant, not to mention he probably exerted a lot more energy in that elevated form in closing-out the Italian than we think.
I have written a lot about Novak’s style. Back in the day, when Novak would struggle, I would turn to this typical argument: Novak’s style is unsustainable. Go back and read portions from the “Djokollapse” writings. To summarize, I argued that as Novak aged, his preferred approach to get into these longer exchanges with these younger and stronger players would not bode well long-term.
After Novak recovered from his 2017-18 collapse, he seemed to be back in form and reclaiming his position at the top of the tour. He did just that, but a couple of matches come to mind that supported this position I had on his sustainability, which is bold on my part given that he’s the fittest player in the game (more or less), the best in the Bo5 format. I am talking about the 2018 Paris Masters and the 2018 ATP Finals.
He had comeback to form at Wimbledon that year (we saw him start to gain his form during the clay season), winning WB, which included a spectacular SF win over Nadal. He went on to win the U.S. Open in August, as well. So, one could, I suppose, argue that Novak was gassed by the end of the season, pertaining to these Paris Masters and ATP Finals losses I am talking about. He lost to Khachanov at Paris-Roubaix and Zverev at London, both in the finals of those tournaments. These matches are in ideal conditions for the Serb. But the opponents are what I am referring to here.
Medvedev has a similar stature, at least physically. All three of these players’ styles, to go along with their physical presence, include big baseline games, that involve big hitting. The way to break these guys down is with variety. Taking them-on strictly from the BL is simply playing into their strengths; youth, quickness and power.
This is par for the course with this unfortunate THBH style. Takes creativity out of the game, reinforces one’s ability to hide his flaws, and pushes a more defensive, but at the same time (because of training and equipment) a consistently harder hitting style. Couple that with youth and you have the modern game, but for a pinch of genius in a few classically trained players.
Zverev, Khachanov, Rublev, and Medvedev come to mind. Rublev is the extreme example, the archetype of this style disaster. I have been arguing this for years. Novak is 34 years-old now. He seems fresh, on the one hand; but I guess too much of a good thing is exactly what we have here (both the style and reference to his draw at the ’21 USO, which we’ll get to next).
Novak ran out of gas is really all we can go on here and I’m just saying that his style doesn’t exactly help him in terms of continuing to win into his mid-to-late 30s despite what we want to think (though he is evolving — another part of his genius, with the improved serve and the flashes of an all-court game). There is part of that match on Sunday, especially as it came to an end, with the tears of disappointment and joy from the Serb, an odd mix of heavy emotions, that has us curious about this man’s future (another part of this discussion we’ll address down below).
The sense of failure on the court Sunday, as Medvedev celebrated, seemed more than just a loss in the U.S. Open final. He will provide us with an answer to this question very soon, for sure in Melbourne in 2022, of how he bounces back, of what this explosion of emotions means. Was it simply the pressure of the CYGS that wore him out, along with the difficult draw?
Medvedev wasn’t the guy to play along with this potential story-book ending. Thiem, Tsitsipas and even Zverev we could see perhaps rolling over, in the end. Medvedev looked for a minute or two like he could blow this, trying to serve it out, but the Muscovite was done playing a minor role. His determined, mature-beyond-his-years match fortitude was too much.
But back to that flood of emotion. Probably the weight of the potential, the physical and emotional exhaustion. Did the meltdown have something to do with New York City? He’s had difficulty there. He’s won there only three times.
The crowd has been an unforgiving puzzle, seemingly always rooting against him.
He melted-down Sunday as they lifted him up, genuinely grateful and appreciative (I hope) of his championship character and quality. They finally reached out to him. And he lost it. Seemed so out-of-character for everyone there. He said the crowd, finally, made him feel so “special.”
I have to admit: a bizarre scene.
Watching all of that made me want, rather, to watch Novak break players down from the BL with his incredible consistency and depth from both wings. As you know, I am not a THBH fan, but his mastery of his own style, hitting all manners of angles, on or inside the BL (not 20 feet in arears), the BHDTL, the ROS, the drop-shot, the improving serve and net game.
Djokovic’s style is this technical mastery of the game to go with his ferocity of competitive spirit. Indeed, his celestial elegance and demonic intensity define the game that has conquered this sport, no matter the surface, nor the opponent. This is what has made him, for all intents and purposes, the greatest of all-time. Federer is too angelic and Nadal too ungodly. Novak is the most complete.
Perhaps the anomalous outcome of this year’s final gets us closer to the heart of this anomalous tennis great.
Like the denouement of a career.
The Draw: Novak’s Half was Stacked.
This seemed the case at first glance. For many, especially Djokovic fans, this is the real culprit. I see their point, some.
Novak had a brutal draw. But I still come back to his form. We know that the “dropping the first set and closing-out his opponent” strategy seemed a bit odd, even comical. This was actually probably the death of him at this tournament. If he’s more methodical with these early matches, he might have had more in the final.
And some of this “difficulty of the draw” is his relationship with the crowd. Clearly Novak wants the adoration of the crowd. Who doesn’t, especially when you have been arguably the best tennis player in the world for the past 10 years. But we know Novak is guilty of some of this saltiness. No need to go into that. I like that part of his character — he’s more authentic, real. Nadal is almost criminally fake and Federer, really, is a goofball, to go along with his smooth, Swiss sexiness that we know he strives for quite a bit.
The draw complaint has legs because he did have some pretty decent tennis players in his route. But, . . .
He should not have lost a set to Rune and the crowd was a bit of a factor there; they cheered for the youngster, which had to piss on Novak’s NYC welcome party. Put that kid away 0 0 0. That’s on Novak, which begs the question about his form and/or his obsession with the crowd.
He gets a straight-set win next and then Nishikori. That has some potential for resistance and he gave another set away there. Moving to the R16, he had a random encounter with Brooksby. Nothing conspiratorial about that. The Aussie grinder de Minaur was the seed he should have faced, or Karatsev. He missed both of those grinders, but got this American WC (literally). Nothing unfair so far. Sorry.
His QF opponent was to be Hurkacz or Berretinni. Both tough opponents. He got the #6 in the world and that was a tough match. Losing that tough first set might have propelled him to finish the Italian off, showing that splendid form. Did he shoot his wad? Granted, Berretinni is a tough QF opponent.
Then he got Zverev and, of course, Medvedev. The business-end was unkind to Novak, for sure. Tough QF and SF.
I am believing more and more that this was a bit of a form issue, that Novak might have been burning-out coming into the tournament. He wasn’t that sharp vs any of his opponents early-on. He played too many extra sets.
On the other hand, the Russian had a joke of a draw. Dimitrov and Evans were the only guys breathing in his half of the bottom quarter. He played no one and then Evans in the R16.
But, to be fair, he did not fuck around. Medvedev definitely has an agenda. I tweeted about an interview he did with ESPN. Very likable, very very determined, equaling his coach, apparently. His wife looks like she doesn’t bullshit, either. Medvedev took care of business in his quarter, but, granted, didn’t play anyone.
His QF opponent? That Dutch qualifier. And even that part of the draw was weak. Casper Ruud was the higher seed (8), and Schwartzman was in there, too. Very weak. Think about that potential QF opponent for both Novak and Medvedev:
Djokovic played a #6 who is world class, a huge talent (Berretinni).
Medvedev potentially would have played a #8, who is an unproven dirt-baller (Ruud).
There’s the ridiculous disparity in this U.S. Open draw.
By the SF, you should be battling some talent and the QF could be a challenge, too. But you can see that Medvedev was given and unbelievably soft draw, so soft it didn’t even pan-out, so he played some qualifier in the quarters.
Medvedev’s SF opponent? Well, Tsitsipas is the best case scenario and even he was given a tough draw, ensuring perhaps that Medvedev would have a push-over in that final four affair? If were going all conspiracy-theory here?
Tsitsipas got Murray in the first round. Very tough match and he barely survived, unfortunately with some extra baggage. Of course, he ended-up losing to Alcaraz in R32.
I have seen some people complain about the fact that the draw was done behind closed doors and someone on the board has a business affiliation with Federer. So people are going there. Many draws are suspicious. Remember Nadal at the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2019? Nothing new here, folks. Move along.
Another point was made about rest days. Medvedev, the #2, got the extra day of rest going into the Semi-finals. I agree that the #1 in the world should be on that preferred scheduling. No doubt. Novak had Berretinni, then Zverev and then the final without the extra day. Medvedev played Scoobie Doo and my dog Coco Bella and got an extra day of rest.
Medvedev played a qualifier in the quarters and a nextgen softy in the semifinals.
This all went Medvedev’s way, for sure, in terms of a softer draw and an advantageous schedule.
But this has happened before. Nolefam is calling for firings, the U.S. Open to “open their books,” etc. Nolefam talks out of both ends of their mouth. Novak was not 100%. That’s my take. He should have dealt with his draw more efficiently. The first few rounds should have been three and out. Brooksby? Get out of here. Even dropping the set to Berretinni and going five with Zverev.
He looked off, folks. And the emotional meltdown at the end speaks to something else in the Djokovic spirit world. Very tough draw, but this is Novak Djokovic.
The Stupidity of Fanboys and Fangirls, Again.
I was on Twitter a bunch during this tournament. The Djokovic fans (Nolefam) going after Stefanos Tsitsipas was silly. Tsitsipas says some boneheaded things. His bathroom breaks were stupid. I covered all of this, accurately. Djokovic’s bathroom break in the French final when he was down 0-2 sets (only to come back and win) messed with the Greek’s brain. He was shook; he brought-up the potty break in his French presser.
And he continued to overreact here at the Open (I believe he started this elongated potty break routine in Cincinnati. Zverev called him out).
So, here in NYC the scandal continued and Nolefam went after him.
And believe me: they loved watching that Spaniard upset Tsitsipas in the R32. I watched this happen live. The peanut gallery gloated in the upset of Tsitsipas. Not only was this over-the-top, but they were, essentially, unbeknownst to them, obviously, rooting for Medvedev.
My push-back on Twitter was simply that although upsets are “fun,” they can fuck-up a draw. I want to see the highest quality of competition. That Alcaraz win was a joke. He got hurt and went away. I don’t get the Djoker-fanboy MO; glad I’m not living in that brain-space. They routinely miss the point, the plot. The cringy familial adoration in this case, indirectly, rooted against their hero. Oops.
A Tsitsipas vs Medvedev SF might have leveled the playing field, a bit. But these less than astute anger-mongers let the Greek have it. They laughed at the Greek’s demise, somehow not realizing that this was about all that Medvedev potentially would face in terms of a decent opponent. If Stefanos was in good form and shape heading into a SF with Medvedev, the Russian probably prevails, but this could have “helped” their cult hero, in the end.
Watching this play-out simply lacked class and self-awareness. You see the tweet above. That’s a Novak fan calling-out Novak fans.
Even better? Novak defended Tsitsipas in his on-court interview following his Semi-final win over Zverev.
I have written a lot about fanboys and fangirls. Needlesstosay, they embarrass themselves on the regular.
Keep up the good work!