What Went Wrong for Djokovic at the US Open
Novak Djokovic in tears after losing the US Open Final
San Francisco / September 12, 2021
Daniil Medvedev just defeated Novak Djokovic in the US Open men's final 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. This result was a complete surprise. I predicted Djokovic would win this match and have more difficulty in the semifinal against Alexander Zverev. What happened?
The core issue was Medvedev played better from the baseline. His groundstrokes were more effective. Medvedev played the ball to the center third and dared Djokovic to hit winning shots and come to net to shorten points. This pushed Djokovic out of his comfort zone and he made more mistakes than normal. Djokovic prefers play longer rallies, put the opposing player in awkward positions, and win points by stamina and consistency. Medvedev did not let Djokovic follow the normal strategy.
Also, Djokovic has been losing the first set in the last few matches by playing too loose. Djokovic lost the first set against Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, and Jenson Brooksby. All of these guys who face Djokovic believe they must play the match of their life to have any chance of winning. In the earlier rounds, Djokovic could lose the first set and recover. But the margins against Medvedev are tighter. It was very strange to see Djokovic go down two breaks in the second set. He was missing groundstrokes that he normally makes. He even smashed his racket frame on the ground in frustration after one rally. At that point, Djokovic should have taken a long bathroom break and come back to play with a clear mind.
Also, Medvedev played world-class tennis. He fought through a crowd that wanted the match to go longer and slightly favored Djokovic. When Medvedev first had a match point, the crowd jeered as he tossed the ball to serve. This happened multiple times. Medvedev was very fit, arguably more fit than Djokovic. Medvedev played from very far behind the baseline and it takes a lot of fitness to pull that off.
In retrospect, Djokovic should have skipped the Olympics. The extra matches wore him down. Djokovic will win more majors. I hope he finishes with the most Grand Slams of all time. Also if he wants to extend his career for a couple more seasons, he must win points by shortening rallies. The "energizer bunny" strategy of extending points will not be sustainable as he advances in age.