In US Open shaped by the future, Medvedev thwarts Djokovic’s bid for history

Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, kisses the championship trophy after defeating Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, in the men's singles final of the US Open tennis championships, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in New York. (John Minchillo/AP)

The last major of the calendar year has come and gone, as the 2021 US Open has wrapped up from Flushing Meadows.

British teenager Emma Raducanu sent shockwaves through the tennis stratosphere with her unthinkable title. Leylah Fernandez swept up a nation of fans here in Canada. Daniil Medvedev spoiled Novak Djokovic’s shot at history.

Here are five takeaways from this year’s tournament:

Emma Radu-who?!

Emma Raducanu is the most improbable tennis champion of all time.

Seriously.

Raducanu entered this year’s US Open Championship without even a WTA main draw match win to her name.

Ten straight sets victories later and she is the toast of Britain.

The 18-year-old began at Flushing Meadows in qualifying, and after navigating through three matches there, she went on a type of tennis hot streak no mere mortal could match.

Raducanu dropped just 35 games total en route to an historic US Open crown, defeating Canadian Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 to win the title.

She didn’t just overcome the opposition – she demolished it.

After early round wins over Stefanie Voegele and Zhang Shuai, Raducanu obliterated world No. 41 Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 6-1. In tennis vernacular, we refer to that as ‘bagel and bread stick.’

She promptly brushed aside American Shelby Rogers 6-2, 6-1 to move into the quarterfinals, before toppling recent Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, then ousting elite top-20 presence Maria Sakkari in the semifinals.

As exceptional as Fernandez’s run had been, Raducanu managed one match better.

The teen had shown immense promise as a potential future star at the Wimbledon Championships in July of this season. Ranked No. 338, she received a wild card into the event and produced a remarkable run to the second week of the tournament before bowing out in the round of 16.

However, no one could have envisioned this historic run.

Raducanu and Fernandez were the first teenaged finalists to square off at a major since 1999, when Serena Williams defeated Martina Hingis to the win the first slam of her illustrious career.

Leylah Fernandez, of Canada, left, and Emma Raducanu, of Britain, pose for photos after Raducanu defeated Fernandez in the women’s singles final of the US Open tennis championships, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)


Leylah is the latest Canuck to shine

A victory over defending champion Naomi Osaka would’ve been more than enough to earn platitudes. Somehow, Laval native Leylah Fernandez managed so much more.

The 19-year-old became just the second Canadian player in tennis history to advance to the singles final at the US Open, embarking on a remarkable six-match winning streak that she aptly described as “magical.”

Fernandez fought off some of the most challenging obstacles the women’s tour has to offer.

In a war of attrition, she somehow outlasted three-time slam winner Angelique Kerber, one of the sport’s best fighters, to burst into the quarterfinals.

Next, she overcame world No. 5 Elina Svitolina, one of the most complete baseliners on the women’s tour, before ousting the second player of the world, Aryna Sabalenka.

She was demonstrative and passionate, motioning the crowd with fists pumped after her brilliant shots.

Her four consecutive wins over former slam champions and top-5 players were all of the three-set variety, a testament to her mental fortitude and poise under pressure.

Perhaps her greatest victory of all though, came in the form of solidarity, paying homage to New York’s resilience on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 following her championship match.

Class, humility, and empathy are three wonderful character traits Fernandez embodies, and Canada should have immense pride in that.

Daniil spoils Novak’s quest for history

Every athlete has a limit — even the very greatest.

For Novak Djokovic, he finally revealed his limitations. It happened while he was one match away from what would’ve been an historic achievement.

World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev played the role of spoiler, winning his first career major, toppling Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in a surprisingly lopsided US Open final.

Medvedev’s court coverage was sublime, his serving was impeccable, and his shot-making and tactics were formidable.

Djokovic, meanwhile, looked physically spent.

“My legs were not there,” he said afterwards. “I was trying. I did my best. Yeah, I made a lot of unforced errors. I didn’t have – no serve, really.”

Fatigue was certainly understandable at this stage of the tournament, after six matches. Particularly considering he needed five long sets to defeat Alexander Zverev in the previous round.

Those two were engaging in physically taxing rallies, such as this marathon 53-ball exchange, the longest of the tournament.

Djokovic has still enjoyed a spectacular season for the ages, winning three majors in a calendar year for the third time in his career.

He finished 27-1 at majors for the season. Just shy of perfection.

Medvedev now has four titles in 2021, two grand slam finals appearances, a firm hold on the No. 2 ranking, and has fully established himself as a hard-court superstar.

He will be a top contender at every event he plays moving forward.

Felix breaks through

While many eyes were on Denis Shapovalov in anticipation of a potential run into the second week of Flushing Meadows, it was fellow countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime who took the New York City crowd by storm, charging into the first major semifinal of his young career.

The 21-year-old played with a freedom and clarity he has long sought after to deliver consistently on the court.

His athleticism and forehand shone as he fought through a tough opening round against qualifier Evgeny Donskoy.

The serve was massive, as he delivered 27 aces to get past Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3.

In an electric night atmosphere on Arthur Ashe stadium, he overcame entertainer Frances Tiafoe in a mesmerizing four-set clash, as the two duelled in their respective strengths of physicality and ball striking.

He was given a reprieve in the quarterfinals, leading Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz 6-3, 3-1 before his competitor retired from the match due to an adductor injury.

Auger-Aliassime was overmatched by eventual champion Medvedev, but a first career major semifinal is a significant step for the native of Montreal.

He’ll move to a career-high No. 11 in the rankings with the result, one spot higher than Shapovalov.

Felix Auger-Aliassime, of Canada, reacts after winning the third set against Frances Tiafoe, of the United States, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships. (Frank Franklin II/AP)


A fortnight for classics

There was a wealth of concerns over the potential quality and product of the upcoming US Open, with some of the biggest faces in the sport unfortunately missing in the field.

The men’s draw was without global icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who are home nursing injuries, while defending champion Dominic Thiem also withdrew to recuperate.

The women’s field was absent six-time champion Serena Williams, and sister Venus, a major-winner at Flushing Meadows in 2000 and 2001.

With so much star power missing, somehow, the US Open did not miss a beat.

We had signature upsets, like Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz delivering a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 0-6, 7-6 win over world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Late-night thrillers engulfed the near nocturnal New York crowd, like Maria Sakkari’s 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 triumph over Bianca Andreescu — a match that closed at 2:12 a.m. Eastern Time.

Novak Djokovic played a near 20-minute long service game (yes, one game) against upstart American Jenson Brooksby, a ruthless competitor who had the backing of a raucous crowd on Ashe Stadium.

In the twilight of his career, 37-year-old Italian Andreas Seppi defeated Marton Fucsovics in a five-set epic on the first day of the tournament, a match that lasted four hours and four minutes, ending in a 15-13 tiebreak scoreline.

It was worthy of this type of embrace, too:

While they were not the champions that were anticipated or expected, one thing was evident from these two weeks: this tournament was a victory for tennis.

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