All that’s left for Novak Djokovic at this point is to stack the numbers so high that anyone matching them will seem like a fantasy once he finally calls it a career.
But why even think about walking away when he still makes winning Grand Slam titles look so routine?
Djokovic, age 36, added another chapter to his greatest-ever résumé on Sunday when he beat Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in the US Open final, marking his 24th career Grand Slam. By doing so, he stretched his lead over Rafael Nadal to two in the all-time race, with Nadal’s future uncertain due to injuries that have kept him out since January.
But Djokovic’s fourth US Open title and first since 2018 wasn’t even really about his rivalry with Nadal. Instead, it was a statement that he still very much has the physical and mental edge over the younger challengers who have not yet found a way to make him look past his prime.
With this title, Djokovic won three majors in a year for the fourth time in his career, his only loss coming to Carlos Alcaraz in five sets at Wimbledon.
For several weeks, the tennis world anticipated a rematch in New York. But Medvedev disrupted that dream final by beating Alcaraz in four sets on Friday night, setting up a different rematch that also had historic overtones.
Two years ago, with Djokovic attempting to win the calendar year Grand Slam, Medvedev played the match of his life in the final to win his first major.
But this time, Medvedev could not recreate either the magic he had that day or even the level he produced two days earlier against Alcaraz.
Djokovic, who appeared at times to be staggering around from exhaustion after long points, nonetheless constructed a masterful game plan that Medvedev barely tried to find a counter for.
Taking advantage of Medvedev’s deep positioning well behind the baseline on return and even during rallies, Djokovic took every possible opportunity to get to the net where he won 37 of 44 points.
Despite Medvedev’s refusal to move forward and take that play away, he will regret several missed opportunities in a 104-minute second set that could have flipped the match in his direction.
One of them came when he earned his first break point of the match at 4-3, with Djokovic’s body language suggesting that the physicality of the long rallies was taking a toll. With Djokovic rushing in on the serve-and-volley, Medvedev ripped a ball down the line that landed nearly at Djokovic’s feet. But what looked for a moment like a match-altering break instead became a heartbreak for Medvedev when Djokovic softly picked it up off his shoestrings and lofted it over the net to get out of danger. Medvedev also led 3-1 in the tiebreaker but watched it get away with some uncharacteristic ground stroke errors, putting Djokovic in a commanding position.
After such a physical set, a suddenly deflated Medvedev then fell behind early in the third and Djokovic cruised home to the title.
Medvedev fell to 1-4 in Grand Slam finals, all of which have been contested against either Djokovic or Nadal. Djokovic is now 24-12 in finals, more than any man has ever played.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Open men’s final: Novak Djokovic defeats Daniil Medvedev