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De Groot, Alcott complete the first-ever Golden Slams in wheelchair tennis

2021 US Open - Day 14
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NEW YORK — Nobody had ever won a Golden Slam in wheelchair tennis until Sunday, when it happened twice.

And Dylan Alcott had never celebrated quite the way he did after his victory.

Alcott and Diede de Groot both won U.S. Open titles, adding them to their victories this year at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, along with their gold medals at the Paralympics.

They were honored during the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev. Alcott held up his trophy, poured a can of beer into it, and then chugged it while the crowd roared.

The Australian said he always drinks a beer out of the trophy when he wins a Grand Slam title, and said he had around 20 after his win last weekend in Tokyo.

“I just haven’t done it in front of 20,000 people and 50 million people watching,” Alcott said. “There was no chance I wasn’t going to skull that beer on Arthur Ashe after I just won the Golden Slam.

“I saw I got a smile from Novak and Medvedev, which was nice. I wouldn’t want to be a beer in New York tonight, because you’re going to get destroyed. That’s for sure.”

Alcott beat Niels Vink of the Netherlands 7-5, 6-2 to win the quad singles division. De Groot topped No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji of Japan 6-3, 6-2 in the women’s singles final.

Her celebration was more subdued, but the Slam was just as meaningful to the 24-year-old from the Netherlands.

“To be the first one to actually get that title is just so special,” de Groot said. “I don’t think I will ever forget that.”

Steffi Graf, in 1988, had been the only tennis player to win all four Grand Slam titles plus a gold medal in the same year. It only recently became possible on the wheelchair tour, with Wimbledon not adding a wheelchair tournament until 2016.

De Groot got her victory first Sunday before Alcott, a 30-year-old who won a Paralympic gold medal in wheelchair basketball in 2008 before switching to wheelchair tennis, followed with his.

“No male has ever won a Golden Slam. No one’s ever had the opportunity to either,” Alcott said. “I had that opportunity. What a special moment. I trained my whole life for that. So I really enjoyed the experience.”

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Medvedev wins U.S. Open in straight sets, denying Djokovic the calendar-year Slam

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NEW YORK — A game from the end of his bid for what would have been the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969, Novak Djokovic covered his face with a towel, hiding his tears during a changeover.

For 27 Grand Slam matches in 2021, on hard courts, clay courts and grass, Djokovic could not be deterred, could not be beaten. Needing one more victory, in the U.S. Open final Sunday against Daniil Medvedev, to complete a season sweep of major titles and to claim the record 21st of his career, Djokovic could not come through.

Outplayed by someone using a similar style to his own, Djokovic came up just short of those two historic milestones, losing 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 to first-time major champion Medvedev at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

What was in Djokovic’s thoughts as he sat there on the sideline, knowing full well that his quest was moments from its conclusion?

“Relief. I was glad it was over, because the buildup for this tournament, and everything that mentally, emotionally, I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks, was just a lot. It was a lot to handle,” Djokovic said at his news conference. “I was just glad that, finally, the run is over. At the same time, I felt sadness, disappointment — and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment that they’ve created for me on the court.”

Until Sunday, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic had been sublime at the sport’s four most important tournaments, enduring the burdens of expectations and pressure over the past seven months and, in New York, the past fortnight.

He won the Australian Open in February, beating Medvedev in the final in straight sets, the French Open in June and Wimbledon in July, pulling even with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam titles, the most for a man in the history of a sport that dates to the 1800s.

The last man to complete a true Grand Slam by going 4 for 4 at the majors in a single season remains Rod Laver, who did it twice — in 1962 and 1969 — and was in the stands Sunday. The last woman to accomplish the feat was Steffi Graf in 1988.

Instead, Djokovic joins Jack Crawford in 1933 and Lew Hoad in 1956 as men who won a year’s first trio of Grand Slam tournaments and made it all the way to the U.S. Open final before losing.

“I do feel sorry for Novak, because I cannot imagine what he feels,” said Medvedev, a 25-year-old from Russia who had been 0-2 in major finals. “Knowing that I managed to stop him, it definitely makes it sweeter, and brings me confidence for what is to come.”

Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, simply was far from his best on this particular day.

“Just energy-wise, I felt slow,” said Djokovic, who could not create the kind of comeback he had in each of his previous four matches — and six others in Grand Slam action this year — when he dropped the opening set.

“I know I could have, and should have, done better,” he said.

Djokovic made plenty of mistakes, 38 unforced errors in all. He wasn’t able to convert a break chance until it was too little, too late, going just 1 for 6. He showed frustration, too, destroying his racket by pounding it three times against the court after one point, drawing boos from the crowd of 25,703 and a code violation from chair umpire Damien Dumusois.

A lot of Djokovic’s issues also had to do with the No. 2-ranked Medvedev, who used his 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) frame to chase down everything and respond with seemingly effortless groundstrokes — much the way Djokovic wears down foes — and delivered pinpoint serving.

“He was amazing. Just congratulate him, full credit from his mentality, his approach, his game, everything,” Djokovic said. “He absolutely was the better player and deserved to win, no doubt about it.”

Medvedev won 20 of his first 23 service points, establishing a pattern. He finished with 16 aces and 38 winners in all, 11 more than Djokovic. And Medvedev employed a strategy his coach, Gilles Cervara, described as hitting more balls down the middle of the court, rather than trying to find angles that would Djokovic to pick up balls on the run.

“He’s so good that every match is different. He changes his tactics, he changes his approach,” Medvedev said about Djokovic.

“I had a clear plan, which did seem to work. Was he at his best? Maybe not today. He had a lot of pressure,” Medvedev said. “I had a lot of pressure, too.”

Nerves, distracting noise from spectators and cramps that started in his legs got to Medvedev at the very end. He served for the match at 5-2 and was a point from winning before double-faulting twice in a row. At 5-4, he had a second match point and double-faulted again. On the next chance, though, a 129 mph service winner finally finished the job, and Medvedev toppled over to the court on his side with his tongue hanging out, which he explained afterward was inspired by a goal celebration from a soccer video game.

During the trophy presentation, Medvedev addressed Djokovic, offering praise for “what you accomplished this year and throughout your career” and adding, “I never said this to anybody, but I’ll say it right now: For me, you are the greatest tennis player in history.”

In recent years, there has been constant discussion and debate about which member of the so-called Big Three — Federer, who turned 40 last month, Nadal, 35, or Djokovic — deserves to be considered the best of the bunch and the “GOAT” (“Greatest of All Time”).

Even with Sunday’s setback, Djokovic has accumulated statistics that help people make the case for him. He is the only one of that dominant trio to have won four majors in a row across two seasons, in 2015-16. He is the only one with at least two titles at each major tournament. He is the only player who has won each of the next-tier Masters 1000 events at least twice, too. He has spent more weeks than anyone at No. 1 since the ATP computerized rankings began in 1973, surpassing Federer for that accolade in March. And he holds the edge in head-to-head matchups against both of his longtime rivals.

After a five-set win over Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Alexander Zverev on Friday night, Djokovic looked ahead to what awaited in the final and declared, “I’m going to put my heart and my soul and my body and my head into that one. I’m going to treat the next match like it is the last match of my career.”

But Medvedev, who lost only one set in the entire tournament, never allowed Djokovic to get into this match.

From the start, Djokovic was not quite himself. After flubbing three break points early in the second set, the last with a sliced backhand in the net, he pounded his racket against his thigh — one, two, three, four times, perhaps as disappointed in his footwork as his form.

Thousands in the audience tried to boost him by chanting his nickname, “No-le! No-le! No-le!” After some of Medvedev’s faults, some in the stands would applaud, considered poor form in tennis and repeatedly admonished with a “please” from Dumusois.

By the end, the deficit grew too large for Djokovic, the climb too steep.

“I was below par with everything, to be honest,” he said. “So just one of these days where, unfortunately, wasn’t meant to be.”

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With U.S. Open win, Emma Raducanu is first tennis pro to go from qualifying rounds to champion

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NEW YORK — Unseeded British teenager Emma Raducanu went from qualifier to champion at the U.S. Open in just her second appearance at a Grand Slam tournament.

Raducanu beat Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the final at Flushing Meadows on Saturday to become the first player to go preliminary qualifying rounds all the way to a major title in the professional era.

The 18-year-old Raducanu, who is ranked 150th, wound up winning all 20 sets she played in New York — six in qualifying, 14 in the main draw — and is the first woman to win the singles championship without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014.

This was the first major final between two teens since Williams, 17, beat Martina Hingis, 18, at the 1999 U.S. Open and the first between two unseeded women.

Raducanu broke to go up 4-2 in the second set, held for 5-2 and twice was a point from winning the title in the next game. But she let both of those opportunities slip away by putting groundstrokes into the net.

Then at 5-3, while Raducanu was serving for the match, she slid on the court chasing a ball to her backhand side, bloodying her left knee. A trainer came out to put a white bandage on the cut and, during a delay of more than four minutes, Fernandez — a 19-year-old left-hander from Canada ranked 73rd — spoke to chair umpire Marijana Veljovic.

When they resumed, Raducanu saved a pair of break points, then converted on her third chance to close it, ending a 108 mph ace. She dropped her racket, landed on her back and covered her face with both hands.

Raducanu is the first British woman to win a Grand Slam trophy since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977.

She is also the youngest player to claim a women’s major title since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.

Fernandez was asked during a brief pre-match interview in the hallway that leads from the locker room to the court entrance what she expected Saturday’s greatest challenge to be.

“Honestly,” she responded, “I don’t know.”

Fair. Neither she nor Raducanu could have truly known what to expect in one of the unlikeliest final matchups in Grand Slam history.

Both walked out to loud ovations — Fernandez’s was slightly louder — and wearing their equipment bags with both straps over their shoulders, the way someone their age might do with a backpack for high school (Raducanu recently completed her exams) or college.

They both have played like veterans over these weeks in Flushing Meadows, with the poise and shot-making of veterans. The final was entertaining and, for the most part, even, filled with lengthy points and lengthy games. The talent and affinity for the big stage both possess is unmistakable.

Took 28 minutes for merely four games, with a break and a hold apiece making it 2-all. Both blew chances at times. At others, both came up with the goods, producing on-the-run baseline excellence.

The second set’s initial four games unfolded in the same manner — 2-all after a break and a hold apiece.

One of the significant differences came at the start of points, because that is where Fernandez faltered more. She put only 58% of her first serves in, finished with five double-faults, helping Raducanu accumulate 18 break points.

Raducanu converted four of those.

The crowd was so quiet right before and during points that one could hear the right-handed Raducanu’s slap of a leg while waiting to receive serves or her whisper of an exhale while swinging her racket.

And folks — thrilled to be back on-site after last year’s pandemic ban of all spectators — got so loud after them, especially celebrating along with the left-handed Fernandez’s physical trainer, who would leap out of his front-row corner seat and shake his fists when things went his player’s way.

Fernandez’s group — including Mom, but not Dad, who stayed home in Florida, where they moved after early success in the juniors several years ago — was in the guest box assigned to the higher-ranked player. That’s a status Fernandez was unaccustomed to in the tournament as she beat four straight seeded women, each in three sets: defending champion Naomi Osaka and 2016 champ Angelique Kerber, No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 5 Elina Svitolina.

So Fernandez came in having spent more than 12 1/2 hours on court through her six matches; Raducanu’s main-draw total was about 7 1/2 hours.

That seemed to be a factor, particularly over the second half of the 1-hour, 51-minute final.

From 4-all, Raducanu took over, taking eight of the last 11 games. When she broke to take the opener with a well-paced, well-placed forehand winner down the line, she stared at her entourage, then whipped her arms — and the fans reacted.

Raducanu’s only previous Grand Slam tournament came at Wimbledon, where she stopped playing during the fourth round because of trouble breathing. That was July, when Raducanu was ranked outside the top 300 and an unknown.

Look at her now.

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