On Sunday, Medvedev and Djokovic will rematch in the 2021 U.S. Open final instead of the Alcaraz-Djokovic final from the warmup tournament three weeks ago, which was a rematch of the Wimbledon final from July, which was a rematch of their semifinal showdown at the French Open from June.
Djokovic’s hopes of being the first player in 50 years to win all four Grad Slam titles in a calendar year were dashed when the Russian with the quirky strokes, silly one-liners, and dead fish victory celebration stunned the apparently untouchable Serbian champion in three sets.
On Friday night, the sport’s current show stopper, the apparently unbeatable Alcaraz, was the victim of a party crash. By returning every ball and producing one of the most devastating serves in the game, Medvedev had Alcaraz on the verge of insanity in the second set. Alcaraz was about to throw his racket on the ground but caught himself in time. The current world No. 1 and top seed in the competition, Alcaraz, was defeated in four sets by Medvedev, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
Towards the beginning of the third set, Alcaraz started to come into his own, dancing all over the court and taking charge of points with his stinging volleys from the net. With a little additional zip in his ground strokes, Alcaraz cut the advantage in half and left Medvedev looking downcast for the first time all night.
After a trip to the locker room and a wardrobe change, though, Medvedev was once again the human backboard who could find the narrowest angle to slip a ball past his most skilled and acrobatic opponent.
In a fourth set that lasted almost 15 minutes, the sixth game was the trick he pulled off. When given a second opportunity to break Alcaraz’s serve, he sprinted towards the net and slammed a backhand return against the Spaniard’s shoelaces. He raised his eyes to the audience and made the same how about some love for me motion he’d been making all night: waving his fingers.
That 143 mph second serve, and that terrifying forehand the boy unleashed over the court. The agility he displayed while floating back allowed him to convert sturdy lobs into bold overhand rocks. That contact on the drop volleys that causes them to fall with a spin and roll back towards the net.
For the most part of the day, he chased down Shelton’s drop shots from the back of the court like a cheetah hunting its food and collected the rockets on Shelton’s serve like a butterfly collector snatching up fluttering insects. Djokovic even borrowed Shelton’s much-talked-about post-match celebration, miming a phone to his ear and slamming it down, before offering the little youngster an icy handshake as the match the net.
Djokovic enjoys watching exciting tennis highlights just as much as the next fan. With a two-set advantage that was almost unassailable (against him), he entered the court for the third set and swung as hard as he could before seeing Shelton flutter a drop volley. Djokovic racket-clapped the occasion appropriately. Well played, young chap. A few minutes later, he sailed onto the court and broke Shelton’s serve and resolve with a passing shot of his own.
Nearly 24,000 spectators in Arthur Ashe Stadium were amped up for a high-octane brawl when Djokovic performed all of these feats. Shelton’s displays of power, touch, speed, and agility had the crowd feeling like they could reach out and touch the explosion of the roars every time the roof was closed due to approaching thunderstorms.
This was especially evident when Shelton was attempting to prolong the third set when he was behind 2-4. When he had a chance to break Djokovic’s serve, he made the most of it by forcing the Serb into a wide forehand that sent shockwaves through the crowd. After two games, Djokovic had a break point and the momentum despite making his only errors and having his worst serving game of the day (it happens).
The sold-out crowd was treated to a few more minutes of Shelton and Djokovic. Despite being down 5-1 in the third set, Shelton managed to preserve match point and force a tiebreaker. Djokovic, though, was busy preparing for his 36th Grand Slam final. As he had anticipated, after he had won, it was his time to enjoy the commotion and then hang up the phone.