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Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev prepare for epic US Open final

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts to the crowd after defeating Ben Shelton of the United States during the men’s singles semifinals at the US Open tennis championships in New York. on September 8, 2023. Credit – Manu Fernandez—AP

This won’t be the US Open men’s final the world wanted, or really expected. Tennis fans were thirsty for a showdown between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday. Alcaraz (No. 1) i Djokovic (No. 2) are the best players in the world, and a rematch of July’s Wimbledon final, which Alcaraz won in five sets, seemed inevitable.

It was not to be, as world number three Daniil Medvedev of Russia, whose emergence has been somewhat overshadowed by the budding rivalry between Alcaraz and Djokovic at the top of the men’s game, knocked Alcaraz out of the US Open with a clinic. 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over the young Spanish star in Friday night’s semifinal. So it is Medvedev who will face Djokovic, who held off 20-year-old American rookie Ben Shelton in straight sets in Friday’s other semi-final, for the 2023 US Open crown .

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As far as consolation prizes go, Djokovic-Medvedez is a dud. Djokovic will look to make more history: Already the all-time leader in men’s Grand Slam titles with 23, a Djokovic win would tie him with Margaret Court for the all-time mark with 24. Medvedev, meanwhile, busca stakes his claim as a credible threat to replace Djokovic as the dominant men’s player, when and if the 36-year-old Djokovic finally steps aside.

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Also, Medvedev has experience denying glory to Djokovic in New York. It is a rematch of the 2021 US Open final, when Djokovic was trying to become the first male player since Rod Laver in 1962, and the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988, to win the four majors in the same calendar year. But Medvedev erased Djokovic’s dream with a straight blast.

Medvedev seems ready to play spoiler again. He was excellent against Alcaraz, trading shots with him at the net, hustling during rallies to outlast the former world No. 1 (Djokovic will surpass him after the US Open, regardless of result of the final). Medvedev’s creativity makes him an attractive opponent for Djokovic, an all-time shooter.

Djokovic will be a fan favorite, for many reasons. Never as beloved as the now-retired Roger Federer or the almost-retired Rafael Nadal — who missed this US Open while recovering from injury — the American public seems to have warmed to Djokovic. They appreciate its greatness and know it won’t last forever. At this point, Djokovic is pretty much the last tie in the “Big 3” era that elevated men’s tennis for the past two decades.

Also, time may have healed the wounds of Covid. Djokovic was criticized for hosting a superbroadcast event at the peak of the pandemic. It sparked contention at the 2022 Australian Open, and it finally happened deported of the country for violating vaccination requirements. He was unable to play in the US Open last year as he refused to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

But the public health emergency Is over, at least officially. We are in a different time.

And it would be naive to ignore the geopolitical tension surrounding this final. This is the first Grand Slam final that Medvedev has reached since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Medvedev cannot compete under the Russian flag in tour events and slams – some players in Ukraine feel that the players of Russia and Belarus, who has supported the actions of Vladimir Putin, should not be able to play at all. Medvedev has called the war “very disturbing”, advocated for peace and expressed sympathy for Ukrainian players competing on tour while their home country is under attack.

So there’s a lot at stake on Sunday. Djokovic, for example, is aware of the moment. “At 36, every Grand Slam final could be your last,” he says. “So I think I probably value these chances and opportunities to win another slam more than I did maybe 10 years ago. Because 10 years ago I felt like, hey, I still have a few years ahead of me. Now I don’t know how many years I have ahead of me. I don’t I know how many years I play four slams in the whole season. So of course I’m aware of the occasion.”

Sunday will be something else.

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