U.S. Open men’s singles final expert picks: Djokovic vs. Medvedev

Expert picks are back for the U.S. Open final on Sunday, when three-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2021 winner Daniil Medvedev battle for the title. A three-team panel previews the action and makes its predictions.

(3) Daniil Medvedev vs. (2) Novak Djokovic

Ricky: Even though Djokovic got clobbered by Medvedev in the 2021 U.S. Open final, I’m not prepared to pick against the Serb in a Grand Slam final against anyone other than Carlos Alcaraz. It’s just not a smart thing to do. Yes, Medvedev destroyed him two years ago. But that was when Djokovic was dealing with the pressure of a calendar-year Grand Slam on the line. That isn’t the case this time around since the 36-year-old’s chance ended with a loss to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon championship match. I’m expecting a much better version of Djokovic, who has been pretty much dominant this fortnight aside from a brief two-set hiccup against countryman Laslo Djere in round three.

That being said, Djokovic should not be an overwhelming favorite. In fact, this match is close to a toss-up in my eyes. Medvedev has been absolutely awesome at this U.S. Open, which is nothing new for him. It’s quite simply his favorite tournament (runner-up in 2019, champion in 2021). Unlike most of Djokovic’s opponents, the Russian won’t go into the match mentally defeated. He knows he can beat the 23-time major winner (he has done it five times)–especially in this particular situation. I had Djokovic over Medvedev in four sets in the final before the tournament started. I’m changing it to five. Djokovic in 5: 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 2-6, 6-3.

Cheryl: It’s a rematch of the 2021 U.S. Open men’s final, but without the specter of the CYGS hanging over Djokovic’s head. On that occasion, Medvedev played the role of the opportunistic usurper with perfection. With history on the line, Medvedev put in a clinical performance, taking advantage of a physically depleted Djokovic to win in three shockingly one-sided sets. He’s not likely to have that same experience this time around.

First, Djokovic isn’t physically depleted. Second, there is no chance of the CYGS since Alcaraz won Wimbledon. It’s hard to look at this match and not assume that Djokovic is the heavy favorite. Still, it’s Medvedev on hard courts. And Medvedev must always be taken seriously when he’s playing on hard courts. He’s a disruptor, a temperamental threat with a non-traditional game. Expect this one to be close. The Russian had the much more complicated semi, a hard-fought win over Alcaraz. But Djokovic has been a bit out-of-form in a couple of his matches over this fortnight. In the end, it’s hard to pick against Djokovic–so I won’t. But I will also put out there that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Medvedev take the title, either. Djokovic in 5: 6-7(5), 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Pete (Tennis Acumen): Djokovic has the rare opportunity to actually improve on his 2021 accomplishments at majors this year if he is to win the title. Should he defeat Medvedev, he will have won 83 sets this year in the majors with a 27-1 record compared to 81 sets won with the 27-1 match mark from two years ago (he failed to win a set in the 2021 U.S. Open final against Medvedev). The Serb is also two years older now but finds the familiar face of Medvedev across the net once again. In 2019 I personally witnessed when Medvedev became the Medvedev we know today, going for broke in their Cincinnati semifinal — which caused Djokovic to be flummoxed and without answers that day.  Medvedev was ranked No. 8 at that time and except for a brief dip earlier this year has resided in the ATP top 5 for the overwhelming majority of the time ever since that victory.  His confidence on the court going forward dramatically changed during and following that landmark match in Cincy.

Even though the Russian declared that his 12-out-of-10 performance was a necessity to defeat Alcaraz in the semis on Friday, will he actually be able to replicate this form in the final against someone he has defeated just five times in 14 attempts? Since the sluggish start in his third-round match against Djere, Djokovic has not dropped a set and appears to be peaking. Pete Sampras used to say, “Winning one major is a good year; winning two is a great year.” Djokovic is attempting to win three majors in a year for the fourth time (Roger Federer has done it three times, Nadal just once). Djokovic has won nine majors since the last time he triumphed in New York (2018) and will be able to see his way through again this time. Djokovic in 4: 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.