Q3 Review: Medvedev Wins Maiden Major, Djokovic Foiled & Zverev Captures Titles
The third quarter of the 2021 ATP Tour season saw maiden major success, breakthrough runs and history made.
Daniil Medvedev ended Novak Djokovic’s pursuit of the Grand Slam to claim his first major title at the US Open, while Alexander Zverev backed up his golden triumph at the Tokyo Olympics with his fifth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati.
Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas continued to produce consistent performances to rise into the Top 3 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time and Felix Auger-Aliassime strengthened his claim for a spot at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals with a semi-final run at Flushing Meadows.
Below, ATPTour.com reflects on a thrilling third chapter of the 2021 season.
Medvedev’s Major Breakthrough
The Russian had a North American hard-court swing to remember as he captured his first major title at the US Open, a month after winning his fourth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Toronto.
After arriving on the hard courts in Canada following a quarter-final exit to Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta at the Tokyo Olympics, Medvedev quickly clicked into gear on a surface he has now won 12 tour-level titles on. The World No. 2 battled past Alexander Bublik and Hubert Hurkacz before conquering Reilly Opelka’s thunderous serve in the final to lift the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers trophy.
While his bid to become the seventh male player to clinch the Cincinnati-Toronto double was ended by countryman Andrey Rublev in the semi-finals in Ohio, the 25-year-old quickly put this behind him. Medvedev stormed through the field at the US Open, dropping one set en route to a historic championship match clash with World No. 1 Djokovic.
In an enthralling final, Medvedev, who has now compiled an 18-2 record since Wimbledon, overcame Djokovic in straight sets to earn the biggest win of his career and become the third Russian, alongside Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin, to triumph at a major.
“You never know if you're going to achieve it in your career,” Medvedev said following his victory over Djokovic. “Again I was always saying, ‘If I don't, I just want to know that I did my best to do it’. That's my first Grand Slam. I don't know how I'm going to feel if I win a second one or third one. That's my first one, so I'm really happy.”
Medvedev’s run in New York also means he has qualified for the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals, to be held at the Pala Alpitour in Turin from 14-21 November.
Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
On 11 July, Djokovic had just claimed his third major title of the season on the lawns of Wimbledon and had his eyes focused on capturing the historic Golden Grand Slam ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and the US Open.
On arrival in Tokyo, Djokovic said: “I am full of confidence and motivated to represent Serbia in the best possible way. I am yearning for a medal in Tokyo, hopefully, gold, and then I’ll go to New York aiming to complete it all."
On the court, the World No. 1 seemed to be in control as he cruised through his opening four rounds to set up a meeting against Germany’s Zverev. However, after winning the first set, Zverev roared back to end the Serbian’s Golden Grand Slam hopes, leaving WTA legend Stefanie Graf as the only player to have completed the Golden Slam (1988).
The 34-year-old looked to put this disappointment behind him at Flushing Meadows and follow in the footsteps of Rod Laver, who was the last man to have completed the Grand Slam, in 1969. After dropping the first set in four of his six matches en route to the final, the pressure finally told as he succumbed to Medvedev on the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Despite his defeat, an emotional Djokovic felt the full support of the crowd during the match.
“The amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I'll remember forever,” Djokovic said. “That's the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. It's as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That's how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special.”
Zverev’s Golden Patch
Having suffered a disappointing fourth-round exit at Wimbledon to Auger-Aliassime, Zverev did not let this get him down, as he responded with his best run of the season.
On his Olympic debut in Tokyo, the 24-year-old produced dominant tennis as he dropped just one set en route to becoming the first German man to win an Olympic singles gold medal in tennis. The World No. 4 ended Novak Djokovic’s hopes of a historic Golden Grand Slam when he upset the Serbian in the last four, before dismantling Karen Khachanov in the final.
Fuelled with belief and confidence, Zverev then extended his winning streak to 11 matches when he captured his fifth ATP Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati. The German, who cruised past Andrey Rublev in the final to stretch his ATP Head2Head Series against the Russian to 5-0, had never won a match in six previous appearances at the tournament.
However, he played aggressively all week as he moved to ninth position for the most Masters 1000 titles won since the series started in 1990. Arriving at the US Open in form, the 2020 finalist was then motivated for further success as he aimed to clinch his first major title.
The fourth seed made some waves at Flushing Meadows, dropping just one set as he charged into his fourth major semi-final to set up a rematch with Djokovic. Entering that clash on the back of a 16-match winning run, Zverev took the opening set against the top seed, but was unable to sustain this level, falling in five sets meaning his wait for a first major title goes on.
Tsitsipas Soars Into Top 3
The Greek arrived in North America in second place in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin, after running up an impressive 22-4 record on clay in the spring. The question posed at the 23-year-old, therefore, was whether he could maintain this form on hard, a surface he has won four tour-level titles on. The answer? Yes.
Following a third-round exit at the Tokyo Olympics, Tsitsipas posted consistent results in Toronto and Cincinnati, enjoying runs to the semi-finals in both Masters 1000 events as he strengthened his position in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin. The seven-time tour-level champion overcame Casper Ruud in Canada before recording impressive victories over #NextGenATP stars Sebastian Korda and Auger-Aliassime, before falling to Zverev in a third-set tie-break.
The 23-year-old’s performances saw him rise to No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings prior to him competing in Cincinnati, which the Athens native saw as a ‘significant’ moment in his career.
“No. 3 is a number that is very significant and it holds a big importance,” Tsitsipas said in his pre-tournament press conference in Cincinnati. “You don't get many exciting moments like this in your career. I saw it come out, and I felt overwhelmed by it. It kind of pushes me so much to sustain that. That was my initial goal from the beginning of the year, to make it into the top three. Now the second phase of that goal is to remain there.”
With motivation high, Tsitsipas then arrived in New York and faced former World No. 1 Andy Murray in a blockbuster opening match on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he saved two set points in the second-set tie-break to avoid going down to sets to love before advancing in five. However, for the second consecutive year, the Greek fell in the third round at the US Open when he lost to inspired #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in a five-set epic. His strong results in North America have earned the Greek a spot at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
Felix On The Charge
Canada’s Auger-Aliassime has continued to flourish since the end of the grass-court season, with strong runs in Cincinnati and at the US Open lifting the 21-year-old into contention for a spot at the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals.
The North American hard-court swing did not start as planned though, as the Canadian fell in his opening match on home soil in Toronto to Dusan Lajovic. However, Auger-Aliassime quickly put this behind him as he toppled World No. 8 Matteo Berrettini in Cincinnati to reach his second Masters 1000 quarter-final.
The World No. 15 then backed up his run to his maiden major quarter-final at Wimbledon by going one step further at the US Open, as he advanced to the last four. Auger-Aliassime combined his powerful game with grit and determination as he became the first Canadian man to reach the US Open semi-finals in the tournament’s history (since 1881) and the youngest man since Juan Martin Del Potro, 20, lifted the trophy in 2009.
“It's important for sure [to qualify],” Auger-Aliassime said. “I've put myself in a good position to attain this goal. Now I'm going to try to push and keep my focus on my game, trying to play better, trying to play good matches every tournament. It’s very good and healthy motivation.”
Ram/Salisbury Master North America
Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury had a hard-court swing to remember in North America. In Toronto, the American-British tandem finally turned the tables on Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, as they recorded their first win in their fifth attempt against the Croatians to capture their first Masters 1000 crown as a team.
The best was yet to come though, as they clinched their second major title together at the US Open, saving four match points in their quarter-final victory over Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell en route to the trophy. This run of success has earned them the second doubles spot in the Nitto ATP Finals, where they will join Mektic and Pavic and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut in Turin.