US Open: Djokovic sees Grand Slam dream scuppered as Medvedev triumphs in New York

By Sports Desk September 12, 2021

Novak Djokovic fell agonisingly short of a clean sweep of this year's majors as Daniil Medvedev scored a sensational victory in the US Open final.

After scooping the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles, Djokovic arrived in New York in pursuit of the full set, but a 6-4 6-4 6-4 defeat meant the calendar Grand Slam dream died.

Rod Laver, the last man to achieve that feat in singles, back in 1969, was in the crowd to witness what most anticipated would be a momentous moment in tennis history. Instead, it was momentous for Medvedev, the Russian finally a champion at the highest level.

It means Djokovic remains tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 slam titles, the 34-year-old being served notice here that a new generation is rising, headed by world number two Medvedev.

 It was a sizzling afternoon in New York, the temperature taking a leap a day on from Emma Raducanu's triumph in the women's final, and Djokovic was feeling the heat from the early moments.

Medvedev broke in the first game against a nervy and erratic opponent. Djokovic had said before stepping on court that he hoped to bring the "best version of myself" and promised he was "ready for the battle", but he was running on close to empty at times here.

Djokovic had dropped the opening set in the previous four rounds in this US Open run, winning three times in four sets and once in five during that sequence. He came into this match having spent five hours and 35 minutes longer on court than Medvedev, an unusually scenic route through the rounds for the top seed. And those extra miles in his legs showed, Medvedev swiftly a set ahead, sealing the opener with an ace.

Djokovic had won 10 of 10 matches in slams this year after losing the opening set. No man has ever won a slam after losing five first sets in the same tournament, the ATP said. That still holds true.

The Serbian had 0-40 on the Medvedev serve in the second game of the second set, but five points in a row from the man from Moscow felt like a bodyblow, and in the fourth game Djokovic's frustration spilled over, brutally smashing his racket three times against the ground.

Djokovic was landing only 50 per of first serves in court, and when he hit a feeble backhand into the net, Medvedev had two break points. He took the second of those when Djokovic looped a volley long, then held to love to lead 4-2.

On his third set point, Medvedev gave Djokovic a chance to make a passing shot, but the 34-year-old went wide. At two sets up, Medvedev may have had thoughts of Stefanos Tsitsipas losing from such a lead against Djokovic in the Roland Garros final, but this time Djokovic was fried.

He raced out to a double break and a 4-0 lead in the third set, yet double-faulted twice in succession when his first championship point arrived and gave back one of those breaks. Djokovic closed to 5-4, the New York crowd roared and the man who rarely feels loved by tennis crowds began to well up. Medvedev came out to serve again and again served a double on a championship point, but he had another in store and Djokovic netted on the backhand.

For the first time since 1990, when Pete Sampras and Gabriela Sabatini reigned over the rest, the US Open has a pair of first-time grand slam winners as its singles champion, with rookie Raducanu joined by the finished article in Medvedev.

In an extraordinary year for Djokovic, this was a lousy day.

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    Leon Goretzka says Germany are not setting any firm World Cup targets after two disappointing tournaments, but hopes Die Mannschaft can "make a good impression" in their upcoming UEFA Nations League games ahead of their trip to Qatar.

    The Bayern Munich midfielder has won 41 caps for his country, scoring 14 goals, but has enjoyed limited tournament success with the national team, featuring in underwhelming campaigns at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020.

    Germany crashed out in the group stages in Russia in 2018 before being eliminated by England in the last 16 at the Euros last year, also missing out on qualifying for the Nations League semi-finals in 2020-21.

    Goretzka, who missed Germany's 2014 World Cup triumph after suffering an injury in a pre-tournament friendly, recalled those negative experiences as he insisted Hansi Flick's side had yet to set any targets for their trip to Qatar.

    Asked by Sky Sports Germany whether winning the tournament was a realistic aim, the 27-year-old said: "Answering the question doesn't do us much good. 

    "We'll play our Nations League games first and see that we make a good impression and can go to the World Cup free. 

    "I've already taken part in tournaments where we were considered one of the favourites and we failed quite a bit. Then there were tournaments where nobody expected us [to perform well] and we won. 

    "Basically, we are an absolute footballing nation with great successes in the past, and accordingly we have our expectations in such a competition."

    Germany have been drawn into a tricky Group E for the tournament, alongside Japan, Costa Rica or New Zealand, and Spain, having lost their last meeting with La Roja 6-0 in November 2020.

    Before that, Flick's side face several tough Nations League fixtures, including a home clash with England and a double-header against European champions Italy, and Goretzka believes those contests will provide Germany with a real test after Flick won eight of his first nine games at the helm. 

    "The opponents we have now are much more important," he added. "These are top games at the very highest level.

    "We haven't had one under Hansi yet, so [with] many games against top opponents, which is why we made a good impression. Now we can prove that at another level, higher up."

    Meanwhile, at club level, Goretzka endured an injury-hit campaign with Bayern, making just 19 league appearances as Julian Nagelsmann's men won the Bundesliga title, fewer than fellow midfielders Marcel Sabitzer (25), Joshua Kimmich (28), and Jamal Musiala (30).

    Despite their domestic dominance, the midfielder said Bayern's Champions League quarter-final exit against Villarreal meant the team's season "wasn't satisfactory", and is targeting better things next term.

    "We have a lot of things to improve. We played a pretty good, if not excellent, first half of the season. We were in the flow then," he added.

    "You can't say that about the second half of the season. We weren't up to par in the important games - that wasn't Bayern-like. Getting kicked out in the Champions League hasn't happened to us against such an opponent in recent years. 

    "That's why this season overall wasn't satisfactory, but that's what makes many in the club extremely motivated to do better next year."

  • Champions League final: Camavinga and Rodrygo, the wildcard exceptions to Ancelotti's rotation reticence Champions League final: Camavinga and Rodrygo, the wildcard exceptions to Ancelotti's rotation reticence

    Regardless of what occurs on the pitch at the Stade de France on Saturday, the 2021-22 season will have been a good one for Real Madrid.

    Even if they are ultimately left with only the Spanish top-flight title to show for their efforts, there's an argument to be made that Carlo Ancelotti has defied expectations in his first campaign back at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    Given the important losses of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos coupled with the fact only two new players were incoming, it would've been understandable if fans were less demanding than usual in their pre-season predictions.

    After all, Ancelotti was seen as a safe pair of hands rather than someone who was going to come in, shake things up and preside over a philosophical overhaul – and looking back over the course of the season, he's been the perfect appointment.

    Of course, the turmoil at Barcelona helped Madrid's cause, while Atletico Madrid's title defence fell flat early on. For a while Sevilla looked to be the only challengers to Los Blancos, but given they ran out of steam in the previous campaign, it's unlikely Ancelotti and his team will have been unduly worried by them – they ended up scraping a top-four spot.

    As composed and dominant as Madrid were at LaLiga's summit, fans, pundits and journalists alike did go searching for potential weaknesses, or reasons for the chasing pack not to give up hope.

    One area that appeared to be brought up more than most was rotation and the risk of burnout.

    Full steam ahead

    Between the start of the season and the end of December, six Madrid players had featured for more than 1,400 minutes in LaLiga. There are no surprises in this list: they would be considered the majority of the team's core players.

    In the same period, only Espanyol (seven) had more players feature for at least 1,400 minutes in LaLiga, but they didn't also have Champions League football to contend with. Sevilla had three players meet the criteria; Barcelona had two and Atletico Madrid just one, goalkeeper Jan Oblak. 

    Similarly, Madrid named the same starting XI three times in LaLiga this season. While that doesn't sound a lot, only Celta Vigo, Getafe, Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna have done so more often.

    It's clear to see Madrid have relied on a bigger group of core players than their rivals, and as such concerns about fatigue appeared astute earlier in the season.

    But here we are, right at the end of the campaign: Madrid won LaLiga with four games to spare and are preparing to play in the Champions League final – and their route to this stage has relied on the ability to laugh in the face of fatigue, with Los Blancos coming back from the brink three times.

    In that sense, you have to praise Ancelotti's squad management. Whether their lack of injuries has been by design or a fluke is difficult to speculate about, but there's clearly an element of Ancelotti swiftly establishing his preferred XI and then only wavering from it when absolutely necessary.

    And when he did have to look elsewhere, there's no doubting who his favourites were.

    Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga have come off the bench 23 times each across all competitions this season, the joint-most in the Madrid squad.

    Granted, it's not as if they're two hopefuls promoted from the academy – both were expensive additions to the squad. But the frequency Ancelotti has turned to them as substitutes shows his belief in them to either carry out his instructions or make a difference.

    Nowhere was that clearer than in the latter stages of the Champions League. Five of Camavinga's nine appearances in this season's competition have been in the knockouts, while Rodrygo has come off the bench four times in Europe since the turn of the year.

    The latter has, understandably, taken a lot of plaudits in the second half of this season. He scored the vital aggregate equaliser against Chelsea, the brace that flipped the City tie on its head, and was inspirational off the bench away to Sevilla in the 3-2 win that essentially wrapped up the title.

    Before the turn of the year, Rodrygo appeared to be struggling for relevance at Madrid. There will have been some wondering if he had a long-term future at the club, but he knuckled down after Christmas and has become a genuine weapon, seemingly embracing the fact you can still be decisive even off the bench.

    On a per-90-minute basis, he heads into Saturday's game ranked fourth at Madrid for open-play chances created (1.4) and goals (0.34), joint-second for assists (0.34, behind Benzema on 0.35) and third for shots (2.4). He's beginning to show his worth.

    Ancelotti's choice

    Some might have generally expected more from Camavinga since joining from Rennes last year. He's not been able to establish himself as a regular in midfield at the expense of his more senior colleagues, perhaps unsurprising given he lacks the metronomic abilities of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric and the grit of Casemiro. However, his impact shouldn't be overlooked.

    In the second-leg clashes against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, every single one of Madrid's eight goals came after Camavinga's introduction. Those goals ensured Ancelotti's men produced great escapes in each tie.

    In fact, over the 146 minutes both Camavinga and Rodrygo have been on the pitch in the Champions League in 2022, Madrid have scored eight times and conceded none. Over 502 minutes without at least one of them on the pitch, they've scored six and let in 11.

    Of course, it's not as if Camavinga himself has been a central figure to all eight goals. His importance in these scenarios is more centred on the wide-ranging skillset he instantly brings to Madrid – he can pass, he's confident on the ball and is a hard-working competitor.

    His contributions were notable in all three second legs, but it was against City when he really forced people to sit up and acknowledge him. In the three and a half minutes that followed his 75th-minute entrance, Camavinga showed his poise with a nice switch of play, swept up effectively in midfield as Phil Foden looked to pounce on a loose ball, and then tackled Rodri out wide.

    He was happy to accept possession under pressure several times, with one occasion seeing him turn and lift a wonderful pass over the City defence in the 82nd minute as Karim Benzema tested Ederson in goal. A minute later he was darting back in pursuit of Bernardo Silva, ultimately producing an exceptional sliding tackle to win the ball back.

    Camavinga then played a vital role in Madrid's first goal in the 90th minute. His inch-perfect lofted pass to the back post allowed Benzema to turn the ball into the danger zone where Rodrygo was on hand to flick home.

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    But he showed his value off the ball as well. His four tackles from 45 minutes on the pitch was bettered by only Federico Valverde (five) among Madrid players, and he played the full 120.

    His showing was another reminder of the supreme talent Madrid brought in last year and, for many it might've even been enough to earn a starting spot in the final.

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    Mane has scored 23 goals in 50 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions this term, helping Klopp's team to win the EFL Cup and FA Cup trophies, while the Reds could yet add the Champions League when they face Real Madrid in Saturday's final in Paris.

    The 30-year-old scored when Liverpool faced Madrid in the 2018 final in Kyiv, though substitute Gareth Bale netted a brace to condemn Klopp's side to a 3-1 defeat.

    Liverpool are bidding to win their seventh European crown at the Stade de France, and Mane has been touted as a potential Ballon d'Or contender after also firing Senegal to their first Africa Cup of Nations title earlier this year.

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    Speaking to former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher in an interview for the Telegraph, Mane recalled how a phone call from Klopp, who had attempted to sign him for former club Borussia Dortmund on a previous occasion, saw his head turn.

    "I have to say, I was really close to going to Manchester United," Mane said. "I had the contract there. I had it all agreed. 

    "It was all ready, but instead I thought, 'no, I want to go to Liverpool'. I was convinced to go with Klopp's project. 

    "I still remember the first time I got the call from Klopp. He said, 'Sadio, listen, I want to explain to you what happened at Dortmund'. 

    "That was when he thought of signing me for Dortmund and for some reason, it didn't work out. He tried to explain and I said, 'it's okay, it happened'. I forgave him.

    "Then he said, 'now I want you at Liverpool', and I said, 'okay, Dortmund is behind us, let's focus on the future'. He said, 'we have a big project at Liverpool and I want you to be part of it'."

    Mane scored in both legs of Liverpool's Champions League semi-final win over Villarreal, setting up the Reds' ninth European Cup/Champions League meeting with Madrid.

    Having won the first three such contests between 1981 and 2009, however, Liverpool are winless in the last five (one draw, four defeats), including their 2018 final loss.

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