US Open: Djokovic ‘all in’ for date with destiny

27 down, one to go. World No.1 Novak Djokovic is the US Open final away from completing the Calendar Grand Slam. What can Daniil Medvedev conjure up?

Novak Djokovic / US Open 2021©Pete Staples / USTA
 - Alex Sharp

Just after ruling Roland-Garros, Novak Djokovic insisted “Everything is possible,” when asked about a seemingly ludicrous Calendar Grand Slam in 2021.

“I've achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would be not possible.”

Well, three months on, tennis immortality beckons for the world No.1.

Djokovic set for career-defining duel

“There’s only one match left, all in, let’s do it. I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head into that one,” Novak Djokovic declared on Friday night. “I’m going to treat the next match like it’s the last match of my career.”

Djokovic had just sneaked past his Tokyo 2020 conqueror Alexander Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, prompting the German to state, “Mentally in the most important moments I would rather play against anybody else but him.”

A couple of moments epitomised the Serbian’s gladiatorial spirit and excellence. 5-4 up, three set points in the third, Zverev is hauled into a lung-bursting 53 shot rally. The world No.4 pushed to the brink of exhaustion for just one point. Djokovic took the third set in the very next point, suffocating Zverev’s resolve.

With three hours on the clock, Djokovic pounced again, a 30 shot rally culminating in a delicious, dinked drop shot and forehand pass. The reward was a 2-0 break in the decider and as Andy Roddick would say; “First he takes your legs… Then he takes your soul.”

A 31st Grand Slam final, a ninth showing in the US Open silverware showdown, Sunday could be the most important one of them all.

Victory over world No.2 Daniil Medvedev would mean Djokovic is the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to land the Calendar Grand Slam. He’d also move clear of the 20 majors lifted by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Just how is Djokovic blocking out the magnitude of this fortnight?

“Just keeping things simple. I know we want to talk about history. I know it's on the line,” stated the Serbian.  “But I'm just trying to lock into what I know works for me. I have my routines, I have my people. I isolate myself. I gather all the necessary energy for the next battle.”

Djokovic has suggested numerous times the expectation to always win can become overbearing. Over to someone the world No.1 used to confide in a lot.

“One of the Kobe Bryant and Lakers rings, they won I think the fourth game of the NBA Finals. They were 3-1 up. It's his famous interview where he said, ‘Why should I be happy right now? Job is not done,’ reflected Djokovic, inspired by the basketball legend.

“He's been someone, as probably millions of athletes and people around the world, have been looking up to him, admiring him. That's kind of an attitude I have. Job is not done. Excitement is there. Motivation is there, without a doubt. Probably more than ever. But I have one more to go.”

Medvedev, the toughest opponent?

Over the net on Sunday will be Medvedev, who Djokovic (5-3 record) swept aside in straight sets during the Australian Open final back in February.

“It's going to be a battle against another guy who has been in tremendous form, he's won a lot of matches on hard court so far,” added the top seed.

“He's already had couple of Grand Slam finals behind him. I think experience-wise it's different for him know. I'm sure he's going to give it all to win it, to win his first slam.

“On the other side, I'll be giving it all I possibly got in the tank to win this match. I'm focusing on recovery, recalibrating all the systems. I'm not going to waste time or energy on anything that can just be a distraction and deplete me from the vital energy that I need.”

Taylor Fritz, Lorenzo Musetti, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Zverev have all taken Djokovic to a fifth set in 2021, but have all fallen at the final hurdle.

Medvedev will most likely have to go the distance on Sunday.

The 25-year-old dealt with Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, ensuring that his resources are at a maximum for his third Grand Slam final.

“Smooth” is how the world No.2 described his journey thus far, having dropped just one set all fortnight in a relatively drama-free sequence of six matches.

There were some tight moments. There were some tight battles. Against Botic I won 7-5 in the fourth, which is not that much of a margin,” reflected the 2019 finalist.

“It's never easy, but I'm happy that I managed to save a lot of physical abilities, physical power, and mental power. I have the experience of two finals of slams that can help me.

Back to the drawing board, Medvedev needs a master plan to derail the Djokovic express. The last four opponents have taken the first set over the world No.1, giving the Russian a few pointers to add to his lessons Down Under.

“Definitely tactically, because he was playing different than the matches he did before me, and I was kind of not ready for it. So now I am,” mused Medvedev, recalling the Australian Open final.

“I always give my best, but I feel like I didn't leave my heart on the court in Melbourne, there was something not turning up this match.

“That's what I'm going to try to do on Arthur Ashe with hopefully 100% of fans. No matter the score, I'm just going to turn up the heat, try to do my best, even more than what I did in Melbourne.”

The sporting world will be fixated on Flushing Meadows this weekend. History-chasing Djokovic versus a fired-up Medvedev is the headline act this US Open deserves.