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Novak Djokovic could not clear the final hurdle in his quests for a record 21st Grand Slam title and a calendar-year Grand Slam as his bid for both collapsed in a stunning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 defeat against Russian Daniil Medvedev in the U.S. Open final on Sunday.

Medvedev, playing in his third major final, finally hoisted a Grand Slam trophy after avenging a straight sets defeat against Djokovic in the Australian Open final earlier this year.

The 34-year-old Serb was trying to become the first man in over 50 years to win all four Grand Slam events (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open) in the same year. It would have made him only the third man to achieve the feat after Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969), who was watching from a courtside seat.

“It’s a tough one to swallow, this loss, considering everything that was on the line,” Djokovic said.

“I was glad it was over because the build up for this tournament and everything that mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot.

“It was a lot to handle.”

Djokovic found himself playing catch-up for the fifth consecutive match after dropping the first set.

He was not able catch up this time as the rampaging Russian kept the pressure on with a barrage of aces while allowing Djokovic just a single break.

Medvedev applied even more pressure in the second set, and Djokovic begin to show signs of cracking as he destroyed his racquet in a fit of frustration after missing two break chances.

With Djokovic on the ropes, Medvedev moved in for the knockout punch, breaking to clinch the second set then getting two more breaks on the way to a 4-0 lead in the third.

The only time the result was even a little in doubt was when the Russian was hit by bout of nerves while trying to close out the match late in the third set.

Medvedev double faulted on match point while serving at 5-2, allowing Djokovic to secure a break.

After the top seed held serve to trim the deficit to 5-4, Medvedev double faulted again on match point. The 25-year-old did not squander another chance, clinching the title on his third attempt.

Novak Djokovic fell short in his quest to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam. | AFP-JIJI
Novak Djokovic fell short in his quest to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam. | AFP-JIJI

Medvedev revealed there might have been more drama had the match gone any further. He said he was starting to cramp up just as he began to close out the third set and feared Djokovic would pounce if he saw any sign of vulnerability.

“At 5-4, my left leg, I almost couldn’t walk,” Medvedev said. “When I walked to the towel, my leg was just going behind.

“I was trying not to show it. If Novak feels it, it’s not good.”

Djokovic arrived on Arthur Ashe Stadium court with the weight of history on his shoulders.

An extraordinary women’s final between teenagers Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez on Saturday softened the spotlight’s glare. There was no escaping it Sunday, with tennis fans around the world tuned in to witness history.

The New York crowd has never really embraced Djokovic the way it wrapped its arms around Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafa Nadal, who have also won 20 Grand Slam titles.

The fans had also shown no real love for Medvedev, the lanky Russian who relished the role of U.S. Open villain on his way to the 2019 final.

Perhaps sensing they were about to witness something special, the crowd rallied behind Djokovic from the moment he stepped on court, showering him with cheers and chants of his nickname: “Nole, Nole, Nole.”

“I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York,” said Djokovic. “The crowd made me (feel) very special.

“The emotion, the energy was so strong. I mean, it’s as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams.

“That’s how I felt, honestly.”

But no amount of support could lift Djokovic’s game.

The Serb had said he would treat the final as if it were the last match of his career but never came close to finding his best.

Medvedev was also keenly aware there was a line in the history books for him if he were the player to deny Djokovic the coveted calendar year Grand Slam.

“It definitely makes it sweeter,” said Medvedev. “He was going for huge history and knowing that I managed to stop him it definitely makes it sweeter and brings me confidence for what is to come.”

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