Tennis: Djokovic thanks fans after breaking record
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Novak Djokovic is looking to make history at the upcoming US Open. The world No 1 can become the first man in 52 years to complete the Calendar Grand Slam and the man with the most major titles in history if he can lift the trophy in Flushing Meadows next month. With the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and recent Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini all in doubt, there are still a number of players who could trouble the Serb in his quest to complete the elusive achievement.
Djokovic got off to a stellar start in 2021, winning the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon to tie his long-time rivals Federer and Nadal on 20 Grand Slam titles each.
The Serb did what has often been seen as the impossible at the French Open when he beat 13-time champion Nadal in the semi-final, and went onto Wimbledon with no warm-up tournaments, managing to win both titles just four weeks apart.
He’s now primed to complete the calendar Grand Slam by winning the US Open, which begins later this month, after the Golden Slam achievement evaded him at the Olympics.
The 34-year-old was unable to win a gold medal, falling to Alexander Zverev in the semi-final from a set and a break up, then lost his bronze medal match to Pablo Carreno Busta the following day.
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Despite the disappointing losses in Tokyo, the world No 1 is still the favourite in Flushing Meadows, especially with doubts over whether Federer and Nadal will compete as the pair battle ongoing knee and foot injuries respectively.
Even defending champion Dominic Thiem is a question mark, having injured his wrist at the Mallorca Championships at the end of June and being forced to wear a splint for five weeks, while recent Wimbledon finalist Berrettini has pulled out of recent events with a thigh injury.
However, there are still a number of players who can bother Djokovic in New York and have a good chance of stopping him from winning the calendar Grand Slam, especially with the pressure well and truly weighing on the Serb’s shoulders, and they can’t be underestimated.
The Russian proved himself as a force to be reckoned with on the North American hard courts when he made the finals of Montreal and the US Open, and won Cincinnati two years ago. He pushed Nadal to the very edge in New York, coming back from two sets down to force a decider before ultimately losing.
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Although he suffered a routine straight-sets loss to Djokovic in the Australian Open final at the start of the year, Medvedev will have learned from his mistakes and be armed with a new strategy if he gets to take on the Serb at another hard court Slam.
He trails their head-to-head with five losses to three wins but has managed to beat the world No 1 on some of the biggest stages, at the ATP Finals last year and the Masters events in Cincinnati and Monte Carlo in 2019.
The Greek has arguably been Djokovic’s biggest competition at all the Slams this year, taking a two-set lead in their French Open final.
This season he managed to win his first Masters 1000 and make his first Grand Slam final, building on the success that saw him win the ATP Finals in 2019.
He was also games away from knocking the Serb out of the postponed 2020 Roland Garros in Autumn, coming back from two sets and a break down to force a decider and making Djokovic look like the inexperienced player for the better parts of sets three and four.
Despite trailing their head-to-head with two wins to six losses, those two wins have come on outdoor hard courts in Toronto and Shanghai, the same surface as the US Open.
Who better to thwart Djokovic’s Calendar Slam chances than the man who stopped the Golden Slam?
Zverev will be feeling more than confident off the back of his gold medal win in Tokyo, even more so with the knowledge that he was able to beat the 34-year-old from a set and a break down and mark himself as the man to stop an undefeated Djokovic in his tracks.
The German also made it to the US Open final last year, going two sets up and even having match points in the final set tiebreak before losing to Thiem. He also has an impressive roster of hard court titles including the Montreal Masters in 2017 and ATP Finals in 2018.
Although he has only beaten Djokovic three times and suffered six defeats, his wins come in the big moments, having beaten Djokovic in finals of the Rome Masters, ATP Finals, and of course the recent Olympics.
Pablo Carreno Busta
Another one of the Serb’s Olympic conquerors, the Spaniard seems to always trouble Djokovic when it matters the most.
The current world No 11 not only beat Djokovic in the Tokyo bronze medal match, he was also a break up in last year’s US Open when the 20-time Grand Slam champion was defaulted from the tournament.
Carreno Busta broke the No 1 to serve for the first set at 6-5 and Djokovic hit a ball away in frustration, which accidentally made contact with a linesperson and saw him immediately disqualified.
Although he has fewer titles and a less impressive head-to-head against Djokovic than the younger stars in this list, the Spaniard can’t be counted out for his ability to pop up exactly when history is on the line for the world No 1.
Interestingly, the young Russian has never played Djokovic yet and that could be what proves tricky for the world No 1 if they meet in New York. Rublev was regarded as one of the best players of 2020, alongside the 34-year-old, having won a whopping five titles despite the season being halted for several months during the pandemic.
He’s proven himself against the greats before, beating Federer on the hard courts of Cincinnati two years ago and completing the ultimate challenge of beating Nadal on clay at Monte Carlo earlier this year.
Last year, the Russian managed to make it all the way to the US Open quarters before losing to compatriot Medevdev, and had the exact same result months later at the Australian Open, falling to the world No 2 at the same stage of the first Slam of 2021.
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