Tennis

I cried as the crowd showed love: Djokovic

Losing US Open finalist says they made him feel very special with their support

Competing just a stone's throw from the bright lights of Broadway, Daniil Medvedev delivered the performance of a lifetime to win the US Open for his first Major victory yesterday morning (Singapore time) and deny a tearful Novak Djokovic his calendar-year Grand Slam feat.

The Serb lost the year's final Major 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, as his bid to become the first man since 1969 to win the year's four Grand Slams ended in a surprisingly one-sided loss to the Russian second seed.

But Djokovic seemed to have finally gained something elusive.

During the final changeover, with his hopes of a record 21st Grand Slam all but dashed, emotions got the better of the Serb.

He held a towel over his face and cried, clearly overwhelmed by the support he was getting from the New York crowd.

The 34-year-old, who has yet to earn the same level of adoration as his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, said the tears were the result of a feeling he had never experienced before from the New York crowd.

"The crowd made me very special. They pleasantly surprised me. I did not know, I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I'll remember forever," said Djokovic.

"I mean, that's the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. I mean, it's as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That's how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special."

From the outset, Djokovic was unable to match the level brought by his 25-year-old opponent, who proved his mettle and got stronger as the match progressed, except for a few late nerves while trying to wrap up his first Grand Slam title.

Djokovic, who also competed at the Tokyo Olympics, looked exhausted and admitted after the match that the time spent on court this year ultimately took a toll on him.

"My legs were not there. I was trying. I did my best. Yeah, I made a lot of unforced errors. I didn't have - no serve really," said Djokovic.

"If you're playing someone like Medvedev, who hits his spots so well, just aces, gets a lot of free points on his first serve, you're constantly feeling pressure on your service games."

It wasn't all smooth sailing for Medvedev, though. He had to grit his teeth and battle through cramp to close out the match, keeping the pain hidden to avoid giving Djokovic the scent of blood.

"I started cramping at 5-3, I think because of the pressure at 5-2, where I had match-points, I didn't make it," he told reporters. "My legs were gone after 5-3. At 5-4, left leg, I almost couldn't walk.

"If you really look (at) the replay, when I walked to the towel, my leg was just going behind. I was trying not to show it. If Novak feels it, it's not good."

Medvedev had dropped just one set en route to the final and ripped through each of his first four matches in under two hours, determined to win his first Grand Slam.

He had come close here two years ago, coming up short in the final after a five-set thriller against Nadal.

Despite the exertions, he managed to serve up a unique victory pose, flopping to his side in a "dead-fish celebration" with his tongue stuck out, a move the avid gamer said he learned from a Fifa video game.

"I wanted to make it special for people to love, for my friends to love, who I play Fifa with," said Medvedev, conceding that perhaps the move would have been better attempted on a different surface.

CROWD DELIGHTED

"I got hurt a little bit. It's not easy to make it on hard courts."

The move delighted the rowdy New York crowd, who moments earlier had booed and whistled as Medvedev served in the eighth and 10th games, hoping to see Djokovic go the distance. They refused to quiet down despite the urging of the chair umpire.

The Serb would not quiet down too, despite the defeat, said his compatriot and veteran coach Radmilo Armenulic, who has backed Djokovic to bounce back at next year's Australian Open.

The 81-year-old, who guided Yugoslavia to three Davis Cup semi-finals from 1988 to 1991, told Reuters: "I think he's got two or three years left at the highest level and he has every chance of winning another three or four Slams, which would be enough to make his tally unbeatable."

Armenulic noted that the expectations back home were too much for Djokovic and ultimately cost him the title.

But he added: "I am sure he will bounce back quickly. The Australian Open is his tournament and I am almost convinced that he will win a record-breaking 21st Slam in Melbourne."

The Australian Open, which Djokovic has won a record nine times, takes place from Jan 17-30. - AFP, REUTERS

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