In retrospect, it was, perhaps, only fitting that Daniil Medvedev got to determine the last stroke of the United States Open. After all, he arguably made the loudest news throughout. For all the print space covered by the fourth-round retirement of defending champion Novak Djokovic and the shocking loss of all-time great Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, he hogged the headlines, and not always for the right reasons. After overcoming cramps to win in the second round, he promptly turned heel in his next match, giving in to frustrations and showing fits of boorish behavior that hitherto gave him trouble and compelled him to include a psychologist in his entourage.
If there was anything Medvedev showed in his poor display of etiquette through most of his third-round set-to, however, it was that he possessed the capacity to withstand pressure. Clearly, the Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd wanted him to lose, stoked to boo him at every turn for the next two hours and until the outcome was decided. And he earned the wrath directed at him, too, violently wresting his towel from a ballboy in the second set, jostling with the umpire, and then giving fans the middle finger. After he emerged victorious, he defiantly disclosed that “I won because of you. The energy you’re giving me right now, guys, I think it will be enough for my five next matches. The more you do this, the more I will win, for you guys.”
And win Medvedev did. He arrived at Flushing Meadows with momentum borne of a fruitful hardcourt run-up that included bridesmaid finishes in the Washington Open and Rogers Cup and a title at the Cincinnati Masters. He then carved a path to the final with a series of superb shotmaking that underscored his motivation to succeed. No doubt, it likewise helped that he was sufficiently contrite for the second week of his campaign — enough, in fact, for him to earn a reprieve from Gotham denizens not normally predisposed to forgetting slights.
As things turned out, Medvedev would wind up requiring both skill and support to keep Rafael Nadal — three-time US Open champion and the lone remaining member of the Big Three still standing — at bay. Down two sets and a break, he decided to change tack and abandon his defensive predilections for more aggressive play. It worked, and he promptly won the third, and, riding on the crowd’s cheers, also the fourth to push the contest to the limit. Unfortunately, he couldn’t overcome one thing even with his unshakable confidence. Fatigue set in, and, all other things being equal, the handicap against his opponent, the sport’s all-time grinder, proved telling in the end.
Nonetheless, Medvedev has cause to hold his head high. He didn’t give up when the going got tough. To the contrary, he came close to upending Nadal; he pushed the overwhelming favorite to the brink with a vast repertoire of shots that showed his vast talent and utter fearlessness. Which was why he finished with more winners, and why he dared to challenge until the very last point. “I’ll definitely remember [the stand I made],” he said, “even when I’m, like, 70 years old.” Meanwhile, fans are crossing their fingers he’ll use the memory to prop himself up every single time he wields a racket until then.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.