Photo Credit:
(2) Novak Djokovic vs. (3) Daniil Medvedev

Life has a funny way of closing circles.

It feels like a distant memory, but it has only been two years since Daniil Medvedev blocked Novak Djokovic’s final step to a Calendar Slam, tennis’s most elusive feat.

A lot has happened in those two years.

Rafael Nadal flirted with the Calendar Slam in 2022. Djokovic stared down two world governments. Roger Federer retired. Carlos Alcaraz exploded onto the scene, won the US Open, scooped up the gift-wrapped ranking points to take the interim No. 1 ranking, then validated it by defeating Djokovic at Wimbledon, halting yet another possible Djokovic Calendar Slam. Novak won his 23rd major, taking sole possession of that record in the men’s history books.

Now, two years later, at Novak’s first US Open appearance since his heartbreaker to Medvedev, he gets a chance to avenge that very loss.

The stakes are different, but he can actually get closer to winning this year’s Calendar Slam than he did two years ago. He was three sets away last time. If he wins the trophy this year, he will have come within a single set of the 2023 Calendar Slam, given his fifth set loss to Alcaraz at Wimbledon.

He’ll also be attempting to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors won by a man or woman. He will have plenty of motivation.

Medvedev, for his part, probably doesn’t care about any of that. His last two years have been much different.

He has faced his own share of career interventions directed by world governments. Citing the war in Ukraine, Wimbledon disallowed all Russians from playing in 2022. Medvedev was not allowed to play, despite being one of the heavy favorites had he been in the draw.

So, in the head-to-head matchup of “Grand Slams banned from entering,” Djokovic leads 2-1. Australia and the US for Novak 2022, Wimbledon 2022 for Daniil.

To this day, Medvedev is still not allowed to have a Russian flag next to his name when he competes. One wonders what he did to start the war.

And while Novak has pocketed three more Grand Slam titles since their clash in 2021, Daniil still has only the one trophy and this is just his second return a Grand Slam final since that day.

Both men have reason to feel slighted. By politics, pundits, fans, and all the attention Alcaraz is getting. Yet neither man has taken any shots. The only shots they want to take are forehands and backhands.

Through all that, we’re right back where we were two years ago, and these two men still hit the tennis ball better than most everyone else alive. Let’s enjoy the show.

Match Breakdown

Djokovic is the better player, by a clear margin. All of his basic tools are superior to Medvedev’s in isolation.

In sum, though, is where Medvedev can find an advantage. It is his unorthodox style that gives opponents trouble, and Novak is no exception.

Medvedev stands way back to return serve, making him nearly un-ace-able. It is also very tempting to serve and volley on him, but it’s a fool’s errand as he knows how to find ridiculous angles from the back fence. Those angles always surprise his opponents.

His long limbs help him track down balls that look out of his reach, and he moves equally well north-south as he does east-west.

He is in particularly good form right now, as showcased in his relative dismantling of wunderkind Carlos Alcaraz last round, which very few saw coming.

Both Djokovic and Medvedev have love/hate relationships with the fans. Whichever way the wind is blowing with the fans, good or bad, they both use it to their advantage, so that mechanism probably gets nullified here. The fans will probably just be cheering anytime anyone hits a great shot, which will be quite different from the partisan crowds we’ve seen recently for Americans and Alcaraz.

It may not be the matchup the tennis world wanted, but it is the matchup that lady karma wanted.

Expect a long and grueling contest. Very likely a five-set page-turner. Both men will frustrate the other. Novak will play slow. Daniil will play fast. The crowd will sway from one man to the next. Novak will find a way to hold on in the end, and he’ll still put his name in the record books at the US Open.

Winner: Novak Djokovic