Novak Djokovic had just held serve to keep alive his chances of claiming the United States Open championship. It was the third straight game that he won, trimming his third-set deficit to one. Still, he was on the cusp of a historic loss, with opponent Daniil Medvedev slated to serve and, more importantly, serve out the match. To argue that he had extremely poor prospects would be an understatement. It wasn’t simply that he needed to make up for a two-set deficit, not to mention from behind; for all his seeming momentum, he remained a break down and largely unable to make a dent on the receiving side.
Close to 24,000 spectators filled Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch Djokovic cement his status as the best of the best in the annals of the sport, so it was but natural for them to cheer for him and egg him on to keep fighting. From his perspective, however, the outpouring of support was nothing if not unprecedented. Long respected but far from loved in the way the other two living legends of tennis continue to be, he saw himself giving in to his emotions as he heard his name chanted over and over again during the changeover.
As soon as Djokovic shed tears while burying his face in a towel, the match was done. There was no denying the inevitable. Medvedev was just too good on the day of days, and he proved hard-pressed to keep up, his body breaking down after playing five and a half more hours in the run-up to the final, and his mind weary from the burden of brushing with immortality. That said, the uncharacteristic manner in which he confirmed his runner-up status in the last major tournament of the year coincided with the equally uncharacteristic adulation he received from fans. At his most vulnerable, the affection he had long sought was finally his.
Needless to say, Djokovic was profoundly disappointed in his inability to close out his calendar-year Grand Slam bid. He had in his hands the grand opportunity to separate himself from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and he could not take advantage. The pressure was simply too much for him — even him — to bear. Irony of ironies, he was out-Djokoviced by Medvedev. If there’s any silver lining, however, it’s that, irony of ironies, he found acceptance in failure. He lost the battle, but won the war. As all and sundry know, such is life, only too willing to stick the dagger in, but also providing the soothing salve that makes the future bright.
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.