How did Medvedev rate his performance against Alcaraz in the semifinals Friday night?
“I played 12 out of 10,” Medvedev declared after eliminating Alcaraz 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to set up a rematch in the final against Novak Djokovic, a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4) winner over unseeded American Ben Shelton earlier Friday.
The No. 3-seeded Medvedev won his lone major championship at Flushing Meadows in 2021 by defeating 23-time Slam winner Djokovic in that year’s title match. That prevented Djokovic from completing what would have been the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969.
Even before the start of these two weeks, folks had been anticipating a Djokovic vs. Alcaraz showdown on the last day of the event. Theirs is an inter-generational rivalry — Djokovic is 36; Alcaraz 20 — that has fascinated the tennis world in recent months.
A meeting in New York on Sunday would have been a rematch of the final of the Cincinnati Masters last month, won by Djokovic, and of the final at Wimbledon in July, won by Alcaraz, and of a semifinal at the French Open in June, won by Djokovic.
But it was not to be.
Medvedev stood in the way.
“These kind of matches can happen,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz — who will relinquish the No. 1 ranking to Djokovic no matter what happens on Sunday — had been trying to become the first man to claim consecutive championships in New York since Roger Federer won five in a row from 2004-08.
Alcaraz spoke days earlier about his growth over the past 12 months and how much more mature he’s become.
“After this match, I’m going to change my mind,” Alcaraz said. “I’m not mature enough.”
So instead, it will be Medvedev, a 27-year-old from Russia, who will be appearing in his third U.S. Open final in five years and his fifth major title match in all.
He lost to Rafael Nadal in New York in 2019 and at the Australian Open in 2022, and to Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2021.
“The challenge is that you play a guy that won 23 Grand Slams, and I have only one,” Medvedev said, looking ahead to taking on Djokovic. “When I beat him here, I managed to play better than myself, so I need to do it again. There is no other way.”
Medvedev had lost to Alcaraz twice this season, including in the Wimbledon semifinals. Those head-to-head results left Medvedev concerned.
“Before the match, for sure, a lot of doubts,” he said.
But he was up to the task. Was he ever.
He stood way back to return serves and would conjure up passing shots “from his house,” Alcaraz observed with a smile, also noting that Medvedev hit his forehand harder than usual.
Told about that last part, Medvedev said: “I’m happy that I managed to get in his head.”
One key moment: From 3-all in the opening tiebreaker, Medvedev grabbed the next four points and that set.
“I totally (lost) my mind,” Alcaraz said.
When Medvedev went up 3-0 in the second set, Alcaraz went to the sideline and thought about smacking his racket against a couple of plastic bottles on the floor near his seat, but held back.
“It was tough,” Alcaraz said, “for me to stay calm.”
There were moments of brilliance from both men, displays of athleticism, instincts and shotmaking that brought fans out of their seats.
Also often jumping up from his spot in a corner guest box at Arthur Ashe Stadium was Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who is Alcaraz’s coach. Ferrero was looking nervous throughout the second set as the match appeared to be getting away from his guy, keeping up a constant patter of instructions and exhortations in Spanish.
It all helped, if only briefly. Alcaraz really got going in the third set, and his net-charging tactics — including plenty of serve-and-volleying — were effective. He won 54 of 70 points that he finished at the net.
Medvedev served about as well as ever. He saved eight of the nine break points he faced and then often got the better of the match’s shortest points, winning 101 of the 174 exchanges that lasted four strokes or fewer.
“Against someone like Carlos, you have to serve well,” Medvedev said. “You have no other choice.”
The final twist came with Alcaraz serving down 3-2 in the fourth set. It was a lengthy game that lasted nearly 15 minutes, filled with a ton of impressive returning by the lanky Medvedev, whose long arms seem to get his racket to everything.
When one Medvedev return landed out, Alcaraz looked up and put his hands together, as if to say, “Thank you!”
But Alcaraz missed one volley, and then couldn’t quite deliver as he reached to try to get to a dipping, angled backhand return.
“That game was amazing,” Medvedev would say later.
It gave Medvedev the lead and an edge he would not relinquish, even if he did need to put aside a pair of double-faults while serving for the victory as some spectators called out to distract him.
“That’s not so nice. But I’m happy it didn’t help them,” Medvedev said. “They can go to sleep now.”
Alcaraz was asked how long he’ll stew over this setback.
“Days? Weeks? I don’t know,” he responded. “I don’t think I’m going to think about this loss for a long time.”