It was Britain’s Dan Evans, his fourth-round victim, who summed up the experience of playing against Daniil Medvedev.
‘You’re looking at the draw hoping he’s nowhere near me for the rest of my days,’ said the British No1 with his usual candour. Evans was just one of six players squashed by the gangly 6ft 6in Russian on his way to what was the entirely predicted men’s final of the US Open on Sunday night.
Thus Medvedev finds himself as the last line of defence for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the battle to see who ends up with the most Major titles. One more and his opponent, 34-year-old Novak Djokovic, moves ahead on to 21.
Novak Djokovic (pictured) is on the brink of greatness and could win a record 21st Major title
The 34-year-old made it to the US Open final after beating Alexander Zverev in the semi-final
Not only that, of course, but Djokovic also completes one of the great achievements in any sport this century so far, that of winning all four Grand Slams in the same calendar year. The last man to do it, Rod Laver, has flown in from his California home to see his feat replicated 52 years on from when he managed it.
Nadal certainly will not be there, releasing a picture of himself wearing a foot cast yesterday in Barcelona after undergoing a procedure. These days it is far from given that he will even add another French Open to his Grand Slam tally.
So it is hard to overstate how much is on the line for Djokovic this evening, at the venue he left in embarrassment last year when we was defaulted for hitting a line judge.
‘I’m going to treat this match as it’s my last one because it’s arguably the most important one of my career,’ said Djokovic after battling past Alex Zverev in five sets, reversing the result of their Olympic semi-final.
The pressure of what he is trying to do has told in the uneven progress of his matches at Flushing Meadows. Djokovic has dropped a set in five of his six matches here but has always managed to raise his level to get past opponents who have steadily got more difficult.
There can be no argument that should he fall to the ground in triumph this evening he will have beaten the two current best players in the world in Zverev and Medvedev. On Friday night we saw, yet again, how he has been able to win the 27 best-of-five matches in 2021 that have got him to this point.
Nobody has ever played the important points better and when the German created break opportunities he was so often left flailing at a laser guided serve that extricated Djokovic from trouble. If the ball is returned, his ability to lock in to a rally and make his opponents do something special to win the point is unparalleled.
‘I think mentally he’s the best player to ever play the game,’ concluded Zverev. ‘Mentally, in the most important moments, I would rather play against anybody else but him.’
Djokovic has been careful not to get ahead of himself but when this comment was reported back to him there was an air of satisfaction. ‘I’m glad that my opponents think of me that way. I want them to feel that they are under extreme pressure when I’m facing them on a big stage in Grand Slams,’ he said.
The good news for the legions of Nadal and Federer followers who have suddenly signed up to the Medvedev fan club is that their man is clearly capable, physically, of winning.
His opponent at Flushing Meadows will be the gangly 6ft6 Russian Daniil Medvedev (above)
Djokovic is hoping to overcome several legends of the game, also currently on 20 Major wins
Djokovic may overtake Rafael Nadal (pictured) and Roger Federer (top) with a win on Sunday
The quirky Muscovite, based in the Cote D’Azur, is a deceptively brilliant athlete beneath his scraggy appearance. As Evans observed, until you play him it’s hard to appreciate how accurate his serve is and how quickly he can move forwards up the court if he needs to.
He has only dropped one set en route to what will be his third Grand Slam final. At February’s Australian Open the same two players vied for the championship and, notably, Medvedev was having the best of the opening set before getting nervous towards the end of it.
Given that he can have a combustible temperament, the big question is whether he will wither when it comes to the crunch points, not whether his game can match that of the great Serb. Medvedev considered this question and how he felt as the last obstacle to history being made.
‘For sure he’s going to feel the pressure a little bit. On the other hand, that’s what is going to make him be even better in tough moments,’ said the world No 2. ‘I’ll probably be in the history books a little bit somewhere not letting him do this but I don’t really care about that. I think it’s more about him, how it affects him.’
Djokovic does not always make himself easy to like, for all his aching desire to be popular. His greatness, however, is beyond dispute and in the unlikely event that he loses on Sunday night that will not change.