As Djokovic Falters, A New Generation Rises
September 28, 2021
As Novak Djokovic rummaged through his tennis bag, he searched not only for a new racket but also for new hope. His dreams of winning the calendar grand slam, where one wins all four major tournaments in a single year, were quickly fading away.
Djokovic’s quest for the calendar grand slam began back in January, when he rolled through the field at the Australian Open before easily closing it out in the finals with a dominant 7-5 6-2 6-2 win over Daniil Mededvev. Then, after a solid clay court season, Djokovic arrived at Roland-Garros as one of the favorites alongside the unanimous “King of Clay”, Rafael Nadal. It was here where Djokovic caught the attention of the tennis world as he battled from behind to beat the teenage sensation Lorenzo Musetti in five sets before overcoming the King of Clay in a dramatic four set match. Then, finally, after falling down two sets to none to Stephanos Tsitsipas in the final, Djokovic mounted yet another historic comeback to capture back to back majors and his 19th overall grand slam.
Just over a month after his French Open miracle, Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon as the overwhelming favorite. Despite an early scare during his first round match against Jack Draper, Djokovic cruised through the remainder of the draw, and two weeks later, claimed his 5th Wimbledon championship while tying Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the all time grand slam record.
By this time, Djokovic had the eyes of the entire tennis world and more directly on him. Word of the golden slam, the calendar grand slam alongside the gold medal, floated through the air while whispers of Djokovic overtaking Federer and Nadal for the title of the GOAT accumulated. However, the hype was short lived, as Djokovic suffered a shocking loss to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals before ultimately exiting the games without a medal to his name. But, even with the loss, the Serbian stud remained the heavy favorite to complete the calendar slam.
The US Open provided plenty of drama throughout the first 13 days of the competition, with teenagers dominating the women’s draw and qualifiers making deep runs on both sides of the competition. However, while these headlines captivated the crowds, one question loomed large: would Djokovic be able to complete the career grand slam?
The opening round began with a test against the young Holger Rune, where Djokovic looked surprisingly out of form following his loss at Tokyo, and while the next few rounds were relatively routine, an onslaught of challenges soon emerged. Kei Nishikori, Matteo Berrritini, and Jenson Brooksby all stole sets off the 20 time grand slam champion, but Djokovic remained strong. Alexander Zverev, who had ended Djokovic’s hopes for the golden slam at Tokyo, battled the Serbian in a grueling five setter, but like so many times before, he was unable to maintain his level of play in the final set.
There’s only one match, let’s do it. All in. I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and head into that one. I’m going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career”
Djokovic now stood on the cusp of history. All that stood between him and the calendar grand slam was Daniil Medvedev, the gangly Russian star who had lost to him earlier this year at the Australian Open. “There’s only one match, let’s do it. All in. I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and head into that one. I’m going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career,” said Djokovic ahead of the US Open final.
When Novak Djokovic stepped onto the court on the second Sunday of September, nearly everyone anticipated him to close out the calendar grand slam and lift his 21st Grand Slam trophy, but it soon became clear that history would have to wait. Medvedev painted the lines with winners while Djokovic struggled to stay in the game. Djokovic’s legs appeared heavy and his trademark returns failed to find their way across the net. Yet even as the match slipped out of Djokvic’s grasp, he remained emotionless and bare, a stark contrast to the fiery temper so many of us have become accustomed to.
The same man Djokovic had beaten to start his journey to the calendar grand slam would end his dream nearly a year later, and as Daniil Medvedev hoisted the trophy, he signalled the end of an era of greatness. The rule of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic had finally come to a close. The new generation had finally arrived.