Congrats Daniil Medvedev. My comprehensive review of the 2021 US Open
It is clear that we have to get used to tennis tournaments without one or more of the big three not playing in them. World Number 1 Novak Djokovic played in the 2021 US Open while Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal opted out. Hopefully, we will see all three competing at the 2022 Australian Open.
Novak was attempting to be only the 1st player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win a calendar Grand Slam. He was also aiming to win his 21st Grand Slam title. It was not to be, and it was Daniil Medvedev who denied him this triumph by claiming his 1st ever Grand SLAM TITLE.
At the 2021 US Open, Novak, Medvedev, Tsitsipas, and Zverev were the top four seeds. I take a look at the tournament, focusing on the upsets and comebacks, the performance of the top four seeds, and the route taken to the semi-finals by the four semi-finalists. I finally mention exciting new stars before discussing the semi-finals and the finals.
Upsets and Comebacks
1st round; There was an unusually large number of five-set matches. These matches were as follows (winner name in front). B. Zapata Mirales-Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson-Jiri Vesely, Seppi-Fucsovics, A Ramos-Vinolas-Pouille, Dominik Koepker-Quentin Halys, T.Griekspoor-Struff, Jordan Tompson-Gianluca Mager, and the best one of them all, Tsitsipas-Murray.
In addition, the following 5-set matches saw the winner coming back from a 2 set deficit to win three sets in a row. The winner’s name is in front. The matches are as follows; Mannarino-Herbert, Andujar-Kukushkin, P.Martinez-J.Duckworth, Kecmanovic-Rinderknech, van de Zandschulp-Carlos Taberner,
Following were the upsets in five sets; P.Gojowczyk-U Umbert (23rd seed), Maxime Cressy-Carreno Busta (9th seed, comeback from 2 sets to love down), Lloyd Harris-Karen Khachanov, Trungelliti-Davidovich Fokina (29th seed). Pospicil-Fognini(28th seed) (also a comeback from 2 sets to love down)
There were three other upsets in the 1st round. 14th seed Alex de Minaur bowed out to American Taylor Fritz in four sets. 19th seed Isner lost to fellow American, Nakashima 7-6,7-6, 6-3. It was the second consecutive year that Isner lost in the 1st round. 30th seed Cilic lost to Kohlschreiber. The former champion won two sets but then lost the next two, before withdrawing at 0-2 in the 5th set. It was the 1st time in more than 800 matches that Cilic had ever withdrawn from a match.
As many as 10 seeded players bowed out in the 1st round.
Special mention; Feliciano Lopez, who extended his world-record streak of consecutive Grand Slam tournaments to 78, lost to lucky loser B. Zapata Mirales in five sets after leading 2 sets to 1. Lopez is one of only five players to serve more than 10000 aces in his career, the others being Isner, Federer, Goran, and Karlovic.
Second round; Botic Van de Zandschulp followed up his five-set win in the 1st round with a 4-set upset of the highly rated 8th seed Casper Ruud. Henri Laaksonen defeated Christan Garin in four sets. Alex Popyrin won two tie-breaks against Dimitrov who gave a walkover after being 0-4 down in the third set. Andreas Seppi upset Hubert Jurkacz also in four sets.
The second round also saw many five-set matches. Gojowczyk defeated Dusan Lajovic after being two sets to one down. Alex Molcan too was one set to two down before defeating Brandon Nakashima of the USA. Aslan Keratsev, after losing the 1st two sets, won the next three to defeat Jordan Thompson. Technically Jack Sock defeating Alexander Bublik was an upset as well, as Sock is currently unseeded and Bublik was the 31st seeded player. However, Sock is a former world number 8, and an ATP Masters Champion (2017 Paris Masters), and has won 4 Grand Slam doubles titles as well. He prevailed over Bublik in five sets. Five-set king Nishikori also defeated Mackenzie Macdonald in five sets.
Special Mention; Nishikori won his 27th five-set win in 34 matches. He has the best-ever percentage of five-set wins in history.
In the biggest upset of the tournament, 18-year Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz defeated the 3rd seed Tsitsipas in five sets Tsitsipas won the 4th set 6-0, but Alcaraz showed remarkable composure to win the 5th in a tiebreak.
In other 3rd round upsets, Tiafoe defeated Rublev in 5 sets. The 5th set saw an astonishing display from Tiafoe, who had 69 winners in the match including 14 winners in the 5th set which he won 6-1. Before this match, both players had a poor 5th set record, with Rublev at 3-5 and Tiafoe at 2-10, but in this match, Tiafoe had an awesome 5th set.
There were as many as four 5-set wins for higher-ranked players in the 3rd round. Berretini defeated Ivashka, Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Agut, Evans defeated Popyrin and Sinner defeated Monfils
Therefore, after 3 rounds, as many as 23 seeded players were ousted, and just 9 seeded players progressed to the last 16. These, in order of seedings, were Djokoviv (1), Medvedev (2), Zverev (4), Berretini (6), Schwartzmann (11), Felix AA (12), Sinner (13), Opelka (22) and Evans (24).
Special Mention; Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest player to reach the 4th round of a Grand Slam since Andrei Medvedev in 1992. He also became the youngest to defeat a world number 3 since Michael Chang in 1989. Chang that year had defeated both the world number 3 Stefan Edberg and the world number 1 Ivan Lendl at the French Open.
Fourth Round; Botic Van de Zandschulp upset the feisty Diego Schwartzmann in 5 sets. The Dutchman had 2 match points in the 4th set which were saved by Diego, who then won the 4th set. However, Zandschulp had an excellent 5th set to pull off a wonderful win. Unseeded Lloyd Harris defeated the big-serving Reilly Opelka in 4 sets after losing the 1st set tie-breaker 6-7. Once he sorted out the big serve of the American, he demolished him.
A notable 5-set match in the 4th round was Alcaraz defeating the qualifier Gojowczyk, coming back from two sets to one deficit to win the 4th and 5th sets 6-2 and 6-0. Felix had an excellent 4 set win over Tiafoe
Special Mention; Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest Quarter-finalist at the US Open in the Open Era. He also became the youngest Quarter-finalist at any Grand Slam since Michael Chang in 1990.
Quarter-Finals, As expected Medvedev won his QF vs the qualifier Zanschulp to set up a meeting with Felix, who won the 1st set against the young Spaniard Alcaraz who then withdrew in the second due to injury. Zverev continued his impressive run by defeating Lloyd Harris in straight sets, while Novak won in 4 sets against Matteo Berrettini, whom he called Hammer of Tennis for his thunderous serve and awesome forehand.
Special Mention; The Quarter Final between Felix and Alcaraz was the youngest QF at a Major since Nadal met Novak in the 2006 French Open.
Performance of the top four seeds.
Novak has not lost in the 1st round of a Major since the 2006 AO, where he was world number 76. He dropped a set against the Danish teen, Holger Rune to advance to the second round. In the second round, he defeated Tallon Griekspoor of Holland comfortably, losing just seven games in three sets. The 3rd round opponent was Nishikori who had defeated Novak in the semi-finals of the 2014 US Open. However, after that upset, which had given Nishikori a 2-1 h2h, Novak won 16 matches in a row. He made it 17 in a row, though Nishikori played stunning tennis to win the 1st set in a tie-break, after which Novak played solid tennis to win the next three sets. In the 4th round, Novak once again lost the 1st set, this time against the young American wildcard Brooksby, who played a stunning 1st set to win 6-1. However, Novak rallied to win the next three sets and enter the QF, just 3 wins away from a magical calendar Grand Slam and 21st Major. It was the 8th time in 25 Grand Slam matches that he came back after losing the 1st set, which shows his mental strength. Novak’s QF opponent was Berretini whom he had defeated at the French Open and at Wimbledon. The 1st set went to Berrettini, but after that, it was Novak who displayed outstanding tennis to win in 4 sets.
It was Novak’s 42nd SF in 66 appearances in Grand Slams. Astonishing consistency indeed.
Medvedev started with a convincing 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over the stylish French player Gasquet. It was his 200th win on the circuit. He followed it up by crushing German Dominik Koepker 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 for his 42nd win of the calendar year. His third match was versus Pablo Andujar and Medvedev continued his relentless march, winning the match by losing just 7 games. The score was 6-0, 6-4, 6-3. In the 4th round, Medvedev put in yet another commanding performance to defeat Evans 6-3 6-4 6-3. Medvedev seemed to be in a hurry in the QF and won the 1st set 6-3 6-0 before Zandschulp won the 3rd, helped by some unforced errors from the Number 2 seed. Medvedev however improved his game and while the Dutch played good tennis to take it to 5-5, in the 4th, Medvedev’s greater experience helped him great at 6-5 to win the 4th set 7-5.
Tsitsipas started his campaign by playing the former champion, Andy Murray. In a five-set epic, Tsitsipas came back from a 1-2 deficit in sets to defeat Murray in their 1st ever match. This was the 1st time in 15 years at the US Open that Murray, who has slipped to 112 in the world lost in the 1st round. After this 5-set win, Tsitsipas had a 4-set win over Mannarino, where he lost the 3rd set in a tie-break, but recovered quickly to win the 4th set 6-0. As mentioned earlier, he lost to the 18-year teen Alcaraz. US Open has been disappointing for Tsitsipas and he has never progressed beyond the 3rd round. This year was no different. He lost in the third round again.
Zverev had a potentially tricky 1st round match against American Sam Querrey. He however advanced with a straight-set win. It was his 12th straight win on the tour and he made his intentions clear by announcing that while Novak was the favorite, he would like to end the US Open with an 18 match streak. In the second round, Zverev had an awesome performance, defeating the tough Albert Ramos Vinolas with the loss of just four games. He won 6-1, 6-0, 6-3. Jack Sock, winner of a Masters 1000 and a former world number 8, but currently world number 162 who had a 2-1 h2h against Zverev was next. Sock raced to a 6-1 win in the 1st set, with as many as 18 winners. However, he then had an injury and Zverev too changed his game plan and made Sock run around. Zverev won the next two sets and at 1-2 in the 4th, Sock withdrew. It was Zverev’s 14th win in a row. He made it 15 when he defeated Jannick Sinner in straight sets. The third set went to a tie-break and overall Zverev saved 5 set points which made his win over the talented Italian even more impressive. Zverev’s opponent in the QF was the unseeded South-African Harris. In the 1st set, Harris broke Zverev, and at 5-3 was serving for the set. However, he was broken back. He had a second chance with a set-point on serve in the tie-break but he could not convert it. Sascha won the 1st set 7-6 and then rushed through the next two sets. It was his 16th straight win. It would stop at 16.
Let us see how Felix Auger-Aliassime entered the semi-finals. The young Canadian had an impressive tournament. He defeated the unpredictable Evgeny Donsky in the 1st round in four sets before having a straight-sets win over Zapata Miralles in the 2nd round. The tough Agut and the dashing Tiafoe stretched him to five and four sets in the 3rd and 4th round before he won the QF after his opponent Alcaraz gave a walk-over after losing the 1st set. Felix became the 1st player, born in the 2000s to enter a Grand Slam Semi-final.
Before reviewing the SF and Finals, let is have a look at the exciting new talents this tournament has given us.
Exciting new talents
At the French Open, I had identified Casper Ruud, Jannick Sinner, and Musetti. At Wimbledon, I had identified Korda, Felix Auger Aliassime, Mikael Ymer, and Carlos Alcaraz. Here, at the US Open, let us first see how these players fared.
Ruud and Ymer lost to Van de Zandschulp and Brooksby respectively. These two are in my list of exciting new talents for the US Open.
Musetti lost to the big-serving Opelka while Korda gave a walkover to Basilashvii. Jannick Sinner had a good tournament, in which he defeated Monfils in five sets before losing to Zverev in the 4th round.
Felix and Alcaraz had excellent tournaments. Felix became the youngest back-to-back Quarter-finalist at Grand Slams since Del Po in 2008-2009, and the 1st ever Canadian to enter the SF in the history of the US Open.
Alcaraz became the youngest Quarter-finalist ever at the US Open in the Open Era ( Thomas Koch, at 18, was younger and had entered the US Open QF in 1963). The youngster had a great tournament which sadly ended in an unfortunate way as he had to retire in the QF due to a right adductor injury. He later accepted that he was not used to playing series of best-of-five matches continuously and his back-to-back five-set wins against Tsitsipas and Gojowczyk had also made it tough for him to recover. Alcaraz was ranked below 200 a year ago and was ranked 55 when the US Open 21 started and he reached the QF. He indeed has a great future.
The new talents I have identified in this years’ US Open are Jenson Brooksby, Botic Van de Zandschulp, and Lloyd Harris.
Brooksby was not even in the top 200 in the 1st half of 2021 but has made rapid strides since then and reached the 4th round here and won the 1st set 6-1 against none other than Novak. His unconventional game and smart play make him a player to look out for in the future. One thing he has to work on is his serve.
Van de Zandschulp had an amazing tournament as well, and interestingly before this, he had seen the USA and New York only on Netflix. It was a terrific tournament for him, and after winning three matches to qualify, he went through to the QF, be defeating four higher-ranked players, including 8th seed Ruud and 11th seed Schwartzmann, and in the QF too he took a set off Medvedev. His unique style of play of taking the pace off and keeping the ball very deep surprised higher-ranked opponents in this tournament, and it remains to be seen whether it will continue to be effective in the future. He became the 1st Dutch Quarterfinalist at any Grand Slam tournament since Sjeng Schalken in 2004. He was also the 1st qualifier to reach the QF at the US Open since Gilles Muller in 2008.
South African Number 1, Harris played terrific tennis throughout, defeating Khachanov in the 1st round, Shapovalov in the 3rd, and Opelka in the 4th. Harris earlier had an excellent Dubai Open where he lost to Aslan Karatsev in the final but before that, he defeated Thiem Nishikori and Shapovalov. He also had the biggest win of not just his career but most careers when at the Citi Open, he stunned Rafael Nadal. At the US Open, he defeated three seeded players Khachanov, Shapovalov, and Opelka. He has a good serve and effective groundstrokes. He will certainly not just be a seeded player in future Grand Slams but has a good future as well.
Review of semi-finals.
Medvedev and Felix had met just once before, which was at Toronto 3 years back, with Medvedev being the winner in a 3rd set tie-break. In the first set, it was Medvedev all the way and he won it comfortably. The second set saw Felix having two match points on serve but he could not convert, and duly paid for it. Medvedev broke back, held comfortably, then broke again to win the set. The third set was once again one-sided.
Novak and Zverev had met nine times and Novak had a positive 6-3 hth. The first three times they had met had seen Zverev winning twice and both were in Finals, one at the Rome Masters and once at the Nitto ATP Masters. After that, Novak had five wins in a row, including twice each at Grand Slams and at the Nitto ATP Masters. Their last match had ended as a win for Zverev, which was in the SF of the Tokyo Olympics.
It was therefore not that Zverev had no chance against Novak, but as the younger player himself said before the match, anyone, to beat Novak, has to play perfect tennis, and since most of the time, one cannot be perfect, that is why most of the time players lose against Novak. Calling Novak the best player in the world, Zverev accepted that he was very difficult to defeat.
The match was a memorable one. Zverev’s booming serve helped him win the 1st set before Novak came back to win the second and the third. Once again Zverev’s served got him back in the match and he won the 4th set. However, in the 5th set is was Novak all the way. Later Zverev summed it all, “He is number one, for a reason.”
Review of finals.
The h2h between Novak and Medvedev was 5-3. However, in Grand Slam tournaments, Novak had won both their matches, which were at the Australian Open. In hard-courts, Novak led 4-2, while he won their only match on grass, and Medvedev won their only match on clay courts. This was Medvedev’s 3rd Grand Slam final, and he had lost the 1st two to Nadal and Djokovic. He was seeking to be the 1st Russian winner of a Grand Slam tournament since Marat Safin in 2005.
As for Novak, this was his 31st Grand Slam final, same as Roger Federer, for whom the stats were 20-11. The stats before this final for Novak were 20-10, and he was focused on making it 21 and going ahead of his illustrious rivals, Rafa and Federer. As he himself said, “I am going to put my heart, my soul, my body, and my head into that one. I am going to treat that match like it is the last match of my career”. He also drew parallels with Kobe Bryant interview during the 2009 NBA finals where he said, “Why should I be happy right now; job is not done”.
The outcome of the finals was however most unexpected. Most had expected a win for Novak and while some had thought Medvedev may win, they were sure that while Novak may have an easy win, Medvedev would have to fight it out. The contrary happened, to the disappointment of Novak’s fans.
The finals started with Novak being broken in the very 1st game. Thereafter his serving was terrific, but so was Medvedev’s who held serve again and again to win the first set 6-4. In the second set, it was Medvedev who was under pressure but he saved as many as five breakpoints and it was Novak who was broken first, and once again, Medvedev served out the set. His serve in both the 1st sets was at a different level. The 3rd set continued in the same fashion with Medvedev racing to a 4-0 lead. Novak held twice, but so did Medvedev and he served for the match at 5-2 in the 3rd set. Medvedev double-faulted at match point and was then broken. Novak held and once again Medvedev served for the US Open. At 40-15, he had 2 more championship points and once again double-faulted. It was third time lucky, and fittingly, a monster of a service winner gave Medvedev his 1st Grand Slam title.
Rod Laver’s Grand slam record was not to be broken. However, it was a magnificent year for Novak, and ultimately, it took an inspired opponent to defeat him.
Congrats, Daniil Medvedev for your 1st Grand Slam, and certainly there will be more to come.
About the Author:
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer. He can be reached at [email protected]
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