As Daniil Medvedev slowly took control and glided the landscape of the men’s US Open final over his hands as though crafting clay through his fingertips, he imprinted each singular moment with characteristics of his game.
Bizarre looking groundstrokes run through with relentlessness were interspersed with un-returnable first serves that anchored the match to such an extent, that even the world-renowned contortionist escape artist on the other side of the net found nothing in his arsenal of first-class magic tricks to combat this brain-freezing oncoming flurry of mind-bending rally construction.
For his part, Novak Djokovic could only reach into the corners of his artillery firing-range, his hands scraping and cramping along every dusty nook and cranny in an effort to find something, anything that might help him pry his way free from a web that had been so artfully positioned so as to steadily consume him, limb-by-limb, stringing its way over his joints and stickifying his already pressurised mindset with a layer of heavy exhaustion.
This particular championship bought never reached the heights that tennis fans were daydreaming of in the run-up but never was it really ever realistically going to, being played as it was under not just the regular enormity of a major final but also the much larger question marked immensity of the Calendar Grand Slam achievement.
Could it be done?
The answer was nailed emphatically to the door early on as Medvedev broke the Djokovic serve in the opening game and didn’t really look back, the Russian reinforcing and rattling the security shutters of the set with an eyebrow-raising 100% of first serve points tumbling his way, a stat that even now beggars belief given the diamond-encrusted return his opponent usually possesses.
The start of the second will be the moment looked back on with a wondering Serbian gaze, as the Medvedev momentum was wrestled and grappled with under the lights of the biggest tennis stadium in the world and break point opportunities sporadically plattered themselves up under the late afternoon sky as potential Djokovic feastings.
No room at the inn though, and Medvedev brought his hammer down by way of an array of seemingly-magnetic shots that appeared to almost drift over baselines before boomeranging back and clipping in, winning him points that left Djokovic screaming in frustration as his own serve failed to survive the onslaught.
Two sets down and Djokovic had been here before, producing a rabbit from a hat and bewildering Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the French Open a few months ago when all had seemed lost for him.
No such come-back-for-the-ages this time however, as the third and ultimately final set trod dominant footprints across the Djokovic game, with the Djokovic heart left struggling against the crushing repetition of the Medvedev heat.
A double break down, there was to be only brief respite for Djokovic in the form of a break back and scrappy hold formation but the writing was on the walls and the great man knew it.
Sitting at the final change of ends, he covered his head with a towel and wept tears emotional ruin. Relief and gut-wrenching sadness bound together in a raking fashion that gripped his body even as the umpire called time, meaning that Novak Djokovic stood on the court to face his fate with heartbreak still dancing around his eyes.
Minutes later, it was over, Medvedev falling like a puppet to the ground in a celebration that’ll live long in the annals of classical meme-able tennis content.
The presentation ceremony arrived and with it, sponsorship preamble but when the time came for Djokovic to speak, he did so amid sniffs of impressive composure given all that he’d just missed out on achieving. His words drip-dripped as he congratulated his opponent and thanked all the right people before turning his attention to those watching from the stands.
Now, Djokovic’s relationship with crowds the world over has led to an unhealthy amount of think-pieces regarding how supposedly unfavourably he’s generally viewed by your average tennis fan.
The reality is that Djokovic’s game and personality do not mesh well with many of the ideals lorded as “tennis typicals”, those assumptions that champions must behave and act straight-laced and pretty-faced at all times.
Indeed, restraint and emotional control are favoured and Djokovic has been successful in spite of his obvious contrasting characteristics. Smashed rackets and angsty outbursts of bitter disapproval at his own errors have earned him dressing-downs by many and yet, he’s clambered level with greatness by doing things in exactly the way he’s forever been told not too.
Djokovic is not at all unloved. Rather, he remains an alternative offering to the usual.
…oh, and his fanbase is very much there and my god, they’ll certainly let you know that they exist if you question them.
Back with the curtain-call proceedings, Djokovic took the love offered by the cheering masses and thanked them, surprise layered across his face, years of temperamental tug-of-wars worn away with one simple swelling of genuine appreciation from those who had witnessed this momentous reach for the otherwordly.
He gulped down any other further thoughts and stood aside for the crowning momentous.
We watched around the world as Medvedev took the final piece of Djokovic’s planned jigsaw behemoth and hung it around his own neck instead for a victory that was only completely unexpected in its mesmerising straightforwardness.
This had been both an assassination of the Djokovic dream and a proclamation of a Medvedev one.
The road to stand alone crumpled last Sunday night for Djokovic, never really allowing him a foothold from which he could push off from. No helping moments from his opponent either, no rusted nerves in the Medvedev wheelhouse, no muscle tightening pressure that might have constricted, no moments of lose-your-head madness.
History does not deign to offer help to those hoping to carve victory from it.
Neither, clearly, does Daniil Medvedev.
21 Slams remains the immediate goal for the world number 1, an achievement that would take him through the gates guarded by his greatest rivals and into the garden of the men’s leadership race leader alone.
As for the fabled Grand Slam, the wait for a singles tennis player to win all four majors in a calendar year again goes on.
So too will Novak Djokovic.