“The more you lose something, the more you want to win it. The more you want to gain it and take it" - The stakes may be lower for Daniil Medvedev at the US Open 2021 final, but this is not the same player that lost a thrilling five-setter against Rafael Nadal at the Flushing Meadows two summers back, neither is he the same that lost by straight sets to an indomitable Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open final earlier this year. Medvedev will be playing his third Grand Slam final, aiming for his first elusive trophy, but the Russian has now grown wiser with experience at the bigger stage and scripted another impressive run to a final with improved strategies.
Amid all the talks around Djokovic and his shot at history - winning the most Grand Slam titles and becoming the first man to complete a calendar slam since 1962 - Medvedev has indeed dominated the other end of the draw, as many predicted, losing just one set in the tournament. The key to his second successful run to a US Open final has been his first-serve win percentage - 82 per cent (250 of 304) - which is the best for any player who has at least played progressed to the second round. However, the final will be a completely different ball game where the 25-year-old will be up against an invincible force.
Medvedev has previously beaten Djokovic, three in all, in their eight meetings, one of which was on outdoor hard courts in Cincinnati in 2019. But little does head-to-head tie explain Djokovic's win against Alexander Zverev, whom he lost to at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics a few weeks back.
How can Medvedev deny Djokovic a shot at history?
The Net-point strategy: Medvedev needs to come to the net more often during the final. In his six matches at US Open 2021, Djokovic's opponent have come to the net 149 times, which is almost six times in a set, and won 84 times, implying a success rate of 56 per cent. For Medvedev, his success rate at the net has been 66.67, winning 90 of the 135 opportunities he has created, which is almost seven times a set. But there is more the story.
Medvedev also needs to be wary of not letting Djokovic himself approach the net often. In his six appearances, Djokovic has come to the net at least 5.8 times a set, but won 72.68 per cent (141 of 194) of those chances. The last time Djokovic lost a match this year, at the Olympic semifinal, Zverev came to the net 12 times a set and won 72 per cent (26 of 36) of the net points while the Serb won only 43 per cent (9 of 21).
In Medvedev's previous meeting against Djokovic, the world no.1 came to the net six times in the three-setter, losing only two points while the Russian had a success rate of 62 per cent (8 of 13).
Winning the shorter rallies: This implies a top-notch first serve game and fewer return errors. In the Olympic semifinal, Djokovic lost to Zverev by 17 points in the 93 rallies of four or fewer shots in the three-setter tie. Zverev had a win percentage of 74 on the first serve and incurred only 12 errors on the return. In their Australian Open meeting, Medvedev trailed by 11 points (39-50) against Djokovic on shorter rallies.