US Open: Djokovic chases calendar Grand Slam but Serena fate serves as cautionary tale

By Sports Desk August 29, 2021

Novak Djokovic has history in his sights as he begins his US Open quest; after three grand slam titles in 2021, a fourth beckons at Flushing Meadows.

Rod Laver was the last man to achieve a sweep of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open singles in the same year, all the way back in 1969.

Steffi Graf won all four on the women's side in 1988, and it seemed a knock-in that Serena Williams would do likewise in 2015 when she headed to the US Open with three majors already bagged.

But winning any title at that level is never easy, and Williams famously came unstuck when she faced Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals.

Djokovic will be mindful that what seems an inevitability to the outside world remains very much still only a possibility. After his US Open tribulations last year, and a recent jolt at the Olympics, he will know anything can happen.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how Djokovic's situation at Flushing Meadows carries most of the hallmarks of Serena's own position as she headed into the tournament six years ago.

 

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SLAMS

It was not always this way, but Djokovic has reached the point in his career when he can choose targets, decide which records he wants to break, and throw everything at those goals.

At the start of the year in Australia, he savoured triumphing at Melbourne Park for a ninth time and pointed to how Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Williams and Margaret Court had achieved so much.

"They've made history already," Djokovic said. "They made a tremendous mark in our sport. I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way that is suitable to me.

"Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies."

It had very clear echoes of Williams in 2015, also in Australia, setting out her own ambitions for the year and specifically targeting the French Open and Wimbledon.

"Those are the two I really have my eye on, because I would like to do better at those. And I know I can do better," she said.

Williams set her heart and mind on that twin challenge and won both.

"I definitely am not going to play as much this year, and I'm just going to go for everything when I do play," said Williams.

 


BUILDING UP

When Williams reached New York in August 2015, she had delivered a 48-2 win-loss record for the season, landing each of the majors alongside the Miami Open and the Western and Southern Open. Petra Kvitova in Madrid and Belinda Bencic in Toronto had been the only two players to get the better of the 33-year-old Williams.

Djokovic has a 38-5 record for the year, albeit it has the feel of a more dominant year for the 34-year-old Serbian. Two of those losses came at the Olympics, in a semi-final and bronze medal match, and the other three came in his first three events on clay, losing to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo, Aslan Karatsev in Belgrade and Nadal in Rome.

When it mattered on clay, though, Djokovic majorly turned up in Paris, gutsily beating Lorenzo Musetti from two sets down in the fourth round, ending Nadal's streak of four Roland Garros titles by sinking the Spaniard in the semi-finals, and then leaving Stefanos Tsitsipas devastated in the final, with another fightback after dropping the first two sets.

Wimbledon followed, and Djokovic by then was openly targeting a Golden Slam – each major and the Olympic title.

Much like with Williams and her loss to Bencic in the Toronto semi-finals six years ago, however, Djokovic showed he was fallible as history beckoned. From a set up, he lost to Alexander Zverev at Tokyo 2020, a blow that was compounded by missing out on bronze when Pablo Carreno Busta sprang another shock.

 


HISTORY CAN BE A FIERCE OPPONENT

Williams and Djokovic have won non-calendar Grand Slams before, winning four in succession spanning two seasons.

Williams first achieved that from the French Open in 2002 to the Australian Open in 2003, and in 2015 she was aiming for five slams in a row at the US Open, having begun her dominant streak at her home grand slam the previous year.

She won the first set of the semi-final against Vinci, the world number 43, but was then second best to the Italian, with Williams saying her conqueror "played literally out of her mind".

But the disappointment was stark, underlined by Williams' terse response to the question of how disappointed she felt by the result.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," she said. "If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

The four-in-a-row feat has only been performed once by Djokovic, from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016. Had he not been disqualified during the US Open last year for carelessly hitting a ball that struck a line judge, he would most likely currently be on a four-slam streak.

Those who win the first three slams of the year often do complete the set, but there are four instances of singles players falling one short by failing in the year's last major.

Before Williams, the most recent case was Martina Navratilova in 1984, when the imperious left-hander headed to the Australian Open – then played at the end of the year rather than the start – in pursuit of the Grand Slam. She lost to Helena Sukova in the semi-finals, and said: "If I'd have won, I'd have done it all. If I lost I had to start from scratch. Both are hard to cope with."

Navratilova had won 74 consecutive matches until that loss and ended the season with a 78-2 record.

In the men's game, Jack Crawford (1933) and Lew Hoad (1956) also fell short, both losing in finals of the US National Championships, the tournament that became the US Open. Don Budge (1938) and Laver (1962 and 1969) are the only men to have won a calendar Grand Slam in singles.

The weight of expectation is immense for Djokovic as he pursues what would be his crowning glory, not only sealing the Grand Slam but reaching 21 majors, one ahead of Nadal and Federer and into the outright lead in the men's game. The prospect cannot be ignored, and it will be a heavy burden to carry over the coming fortnight.

As Djokovic said on Friday: "I would be lying if I said that’s not something that I’m thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, as they say, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a slam here."

Related items

  • The inevitability of Travis Kelce The inevitability of Travis Kelce
  • Australian Open: 'I don't know how I managed to do it' – Kanepi holds her nerve to stun Sabalenka Australian Open: 'I don't know how I managed to do it' – Kanepi holds her nerve to stun Sabalenka

    Kaia Kanepi surprised even herself by holding her nerve to eliminate second seed Aryna Sabalenka in a final-set tie-break and reach Australian Open quarter-finals for the first time.

    The world number 115 edged a topsy-turvy battle 5-7 6-2 7-6 (10-7) on Margaret Court Arena to set up a meeting with Iga Swiatek in the final eight.

    With Monday's impressive comeback win, Kanepi has now completed a clean sweep of reaching the quarter-finals of all four majors, making her the 15th active player to do so.

    But after squandering four match points in the 10th game of the deciding set, Kanepi admits she struggled to keep her nerves in check when the match went the distance.

    "I thought I was going to lose it after the match points I had on my serve," said the 36-year-old, who finished with 30 winners and 30 unforced errors.

    "It was really difficult to come back. I don't know how I managed to do it.

    "I was really tight. My hand was shaking when I started serving. I didn't make any first serves in, and that added to the pressure.
     
    "It was quite crazy. I think I would be more happy if I won after two, three match points. It was really close that I lost the match. I feel a bit exhausted right now.

    "The Australian Open was the only quarter-final grand slam I was missing. Given my age, I didn't actually believe I was going to do it. I'm really happy."

    After sealing a 14th career victory over a top-10 opponent, with her second win in a row against Sabalenka, Kanepi is now relishing Wednesday's battle with Swiatek.

    That will pit the youngest and oldest remaining players left in the draw against each other, with 20-year-old Swiatek having earlier defeated Sorana Cirstea in three sets.

    "I haven't watched her, I never played her, and I don't know how her ball feels, so we'll see when I play her," Kanepi said of her next opponent. "What I expect is to play good."

    Kanepi is one of six Australian Open quarter-final debutants remaining, with top seed Ash Barty and Madison Keys the only two to have previously reached this stage.

  • Australian Open: Wound-up Medvedev through after 'crazy' fourth set Australian Open: Wound-up Medvedev through after 'crazy' fourth set

    Daniil Medvedev's temper threatened to boil over during his match against Maxime Cressy, as the world number two reflected on a "crazy" final set.

    Medvedev beat Cressy 6-2 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 on Monday to ensure his place in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

    The second seed is the fifth Russian man in the Open Era to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne on multiple occasions, joining Yevgeny Kafelnikov (five), Nikolay Davydenko (four), Aleksandar Metreveli and Marat Safin (both three).

    Medvedev had it far from easy against the world number 70, who reached the final of the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month, losing to Rafael Nadal, and the match lasted three hours and 30 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.

    Indeed, Medvedev was extremely tense in the fourth and what proved to be final set, as he squandered eight chances to break before finally doing so to nudge himself into a 6-5 lead. 

    His temper frayed at 2-2, however, with Medvedev shouting: "It's simply unbelievable how lucky he is. I've never seen anything like this in my life."

    Medvedev eventually served out the win, taking the first match point on offer, but the US Open champion knew he had been in a battle.

    "He really did [serve and volley] well," Medvedev said. "First set I had control, but the second set I didn't manage to break him but won the tie-break and just wanted to continue this way.

    "When I lost the third [set] and when I had eight break points in the fourth set, I was like, come on. Some of them I could have won, but he played well, but on the last one I played well.

    "It was not easy. If I didn't win the fourth [set] I'd have probably been in a difficult mental shape because I had so many breakpoints. Hell of a match. The fourth set was crazy."

    Overall it was a deserved win for Medvedev, who made only 11 unforced errors in contrast to Cressy's 49, and even if he only took three out of 12 break points, the 25-year-old offered up just one to his opponent, which the French-born American failed to capitalise on.

    Another annoyance for Medvedev was that he was again scheduled to play on Margaret Court Arena, rather than the crown jewel at Melbourne Park, Rod Laver Arena.

    "I really don't know what I should do to play on centre court here," he told reporters.

    Next up for Medvedev is a quarter-final tie against ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime.

    Medvedev has defeated the 21-year-old Canadian in all three of their previous meetings on the ATP Tour, including in his successful run to US Open glory last year, and in the ATP Cup earlier this month.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.