By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Novak Djokovic would not let Daniil Medvedev spoil his date with history a second time as he battled past the Russian 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 to win the U.S. Open on Sunday and equal Margaret Court's record haul of 24 Grand Slams.
Djokovic's victory, his fourth in 10 Flushing Meadows finals, capped another remarkable season after his wins at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, and he will return to the top of the world rankings when they are updated later on Monday.
No man has won a calendar Grand Slam in 54 years, though Djokovic came close once again, losing in five sets to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final.
But for the moment he is savouring his 24th Slam.
"It obviously means the world to me," he said. "I'm really living my childhood dream.
"To make the history of this sport is something truly remarkable, it's hard to describe the words.
"I had the childhood dream when I was seven, eight, I wanted to become the best player in the world."
As he continues to live his dream Djokovic is also staking his claim to the mantle of greatest tennis player of all time.
At 36 Djokovic also becomes the oldest U.S. Open men’s winner in the Open Era but the Serb's Grand Slam hunger has not dimmed and he had some bad news for his younger rivals.
"Eventually one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years," he joked. "Until then, I guess you'll see me a bit more.
"I don't put any number right now in my mind on how many Slams I want to win.
"I'll continue to prioritize them as my most important tournaments and where I want to play the best tennis."
After clinching his historic title on Sunday Djokovic threw his racquet into the air and dropped to his knees as the crowd roared.
He picked himself up and found his young daughter court-side for an emotional hug before going back to the bench and pulling out a T-shirt with 'Mamba Forever' on the front and the number 24 on the back.
The shirt was a tribute to both his achievement and to his late friend Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who wore the number throughout much of his all-star career before dying in a helicopter crash.
"I thought of doing this T-shirt, eventually, if I get the chance to win the tournament," said Djokovic. "Kobe was a close friend, we chatted a lot about the winner's mentality.
"When I was struggling with injury he was one of the people I relied on the most."
Neither Djokovic nor Medvedev have been fully embraced by the New York crowds and until the end of the match there was little of the electricity that crackled through Arthur Ashe during the women's final on Saturday.
As the match started Djokovic walked out onto court and stared across the net at Medvedev, the man once again standing between him and history just as he had two years ago.
The last time the two clashed at the U.S. Open was in the 2021 final, when the Russian captured his only major and denied the Serb that elusive calendar Grand Slam.
Djokovic did not speak of revenge on the road to the final and only referenced that loss as a learning experience.
"I haven't played any tournament on American soil for two years," said Djokovic, who missed last year's Slam due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"I really did my best in the last 48 hours not to allow the importance of the moment and what's on the line get to my head.
"Two years ago that's what happened and I wasn't able to be at my best and I was outplayed.
"So I learned my lesson."
As expected of a contest featuring the sport's two premier hardcourt players, almost every point was contested with long rallies as both men pounded away from the baseline.
Djokovic came out playing with purpose and applied pressure right away, breaking the third seed at the first opportunity on his way to a 3-0 lead.
That would be the only break Djokovic would need against a surprisingly flat Medvedev, who could not raise his play to the "12 out of 10" level he said he reached in beating defending champion Alcaraz in the semi-finals.
During a marathon one hour and 44 minute, lung-bursting second set Medvedev came to life, forcing a faltering Djokovic into long grinding point after long grinding point.
But the tireless Russian's hard work failed to pay dividends and he was unable to convert a break chance at 6-5 that would have given him the set.
Medvedev charged in front 3-1 in the tie-break but again could not land the knockout blow as Djokovic came off the ropes to take it 7-5 for a 2-0 lead.
If there is one thing Djokovic possesses it is a killer instinct and the Serb wasted no time in pressing home his advantage, breaking Medvedev to go up 3-1 in the third.
A defiant Medvedev answered with his first and only break of the match but it was not enough with Djokovic hitting right back with another break then holding serve the rest of way to clinch the title.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in New York; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Lincoln Feast, Michael Perry and Peter Rutherford)