NEW YORK - Novak Djokovic against Daniil Medvedev in the U.S. Open men's final may not have been the showdown fans were dreaming of but it could still bring the Grand Slam season to a spellbinding conclusion on Sunday.
For weeks the tennis world was buzzing about seeing the red hot rivalry between Djokovic and holder Carlos Alcaraz in the Flushing Meadows final until Medvedev played the spoiler with a brilliant 7-6(3) 6-1 3-6 6-3 semi-final win over the Spaniard.
But what a final between former U.S. Open champion Medvedev and three-time winner Djokovic may lack in pizzazz it more than makes up for in pure quality with the world's two best hard court players going toe-to-toe at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The contest also comes with some spicy sub plots as Djokovic hunts a fourth U.S. Open that would see him equal Margaret Court's record haul of 24 Grand Slams and, along with it, a good measure of revenge against Medvedev.
On Sunday the Serb will look across the net at the same man standing between him and history as he did two years ago.
The last time Djokovic and Medvedev clashed at the U.S. Open was in the 2021 final, when the Russian captured his only major so far and denied the Serb a rare calendar Grand Slam.
It is a loss Djokovic has not forgotten and has learned from.
"Every time in a Grand Slam final it's another shot for history and I'm aware of it," said Djokovic, who will reclaim top spot in the world rankings on Monday.
"I don't have much time nor do I allow myself to reflect on these things or think about the history too much.
"When I did that in the past, like, '21 finals (against Medvedev) here I was maybe overwhelmed with the occasion and the opportunity and I underperformed.
"I don't want this to happen again."
Medvedev and Djokovic have both been tested en route to the final.
Second seed Djokovic, 36, fought back from two sets down to beat fellow Serb Laslo Djere in the third round but did not drop another set on the way to his 10th U.S. Open final.
Medvedev has spent much of time working the graveyard shift at Flushing Meadows with several of his matches starting late in the evening one day and finishing in the next.
The third seed's toughest physical test came in the quarter-finals when he beat his daughter's godfather Andrey Rublev in straight sets in brutal heat and humidity.
Medvedev said he had to raise his level to 12 out of 10 in the semi-finals to dethrone Alcaraz and would need to do the same or better against Djokovic.
"He (Djokovic) is always better than the previous time he plays," said 27-year-old Medvedev, who will be appearing in his third U.S. Open final, having also lost to Rafa Nadal in 2019.
"Novak is going to be his best version on Sunday and I have to be the best-ever version of myself if I want to try to beat him.
"Novak, when he loses, he's never the same after. He's different. So I have to use it knowing that he's going to be 10 times better than he was that day.
"And I have to be, if I want to still beat him, 10 times better than I was that day."
While Djokovic and Medvedev are compelling figures, neither has been fully embraced by the New York crowds they have so desperately courted.
Not long ago Medvedev was Flushing Meadows' public enemy number one for his on court antics that included giving the crowd the finger during a 2019 match.
Over the years Djokovic has had a love/hate relationship with New Yorkers that reached a low point during a 2020 match when he in a fit of frustration he inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat with a ball and was disqualified.
"At the end of the day, they buy tickets to come watch you play," said Djokovic. "So we try to put on a show and perform for them so they go back home satisfied." REUTERS