The 2021 US Open will be remembered as one of the most eventful, unpredictable and thrilling tennis majors in which fans witnessed an 18-year-old qualifier lift the women’s trophy and the men’s world No.1 fall just one match short of completing the calendar year Grand Slam.
Here is what we learned from an unforgettable fortnight of tennis in New York.
1. Raducanu, Fernandez explode on to the scene
The first-ever qualifier to win a Grand Slam, the youngest major champion since Maria Sharapova triumphed at Wimbledon in 2004, and the first British woman to be crowned a Grand Slam winner since Virginia Wade in 1977 — Emma Raducanu came out of nowhere to reign supreme in New York without dropping a set.
The 18-year-old did it on only her second major appearance (no woman has ever done that) and jumped from 150 to 23 in the world rankings as a result.
Considering her lack of Grand Slam experience entering the event, the British teen’s run in New York is almost impossible to explain beyond the basic facts that she is really good at tennis and has shown incredible mastery of her nerves and the occasion, especially in the final against Leylah Fernandez.
“What she did in New York was very special, a huge boost for British tennis,” former world No.1 Andy Murray told the BBC.
Raducanu’s impact extends well beyond her home country. Born in Toronto to a Romanian father and Chinese mother before moving to the UK as a two-year-old, she will no doubt inspire millions around the world.
Her victory lap over the past two days included appearances on the biggest morning talk shows in the US, followed by her Met Gala debut, where she sat at the Chanel table with powerhouses such as Kristen Stewart and Pharrell Williams.
Fernandez’ New York exploits also thrust her into the spotlight. The Arthur Ashe stadium crowd fell in love with the 19-year-old Canadian, who knocked out three top-five seeds (Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka) en route to the final.
Raducanu and Fernandez gave fans the first all-teen major final since 1999. With tennis eager to attract younger followers and reach a wider audience, the pair will certainly help the sport achieve that.
2. Djokovic loses the Grand Slam but wins over the crowd
As the New York crowd rallied behind Novak Djokovic in his quest for a historic calendar year Grand Slam, the world No.1 was overcome by emotion and started to cry during a changeover late in the third set of his final against Daniil Medvedev.
For years, Djokovic has been talked about in superhuman terms. This season he swept the opening three majors for the first time in his career and was going for four in a row. He looked unstoppable and the Grand Slam seemed inevitable — except it wasn’t.
The Serb was under intense pressure as he edged closer to becoming the first man since 1969 to win all four slams in the same year, and at the last hurdle was halted in straight sets by the second-seeded Medvedev.
The moment Djokovic felt most vulnerable is when he became most relatable. Thousands of fans in the stands tried to spur him on, but he was mentally and physically spent, and his opponent was not going to fold, despite some late nerves.
Djokovic walked away as the loser of a tennis match but he won over the notorious New York crowd that had not been kind to him in the past.
“I felt something I never felt in my life here in New York. The crowd made me very special. They pleasantly surprised me. I did not expect anything, but the amount of support and energy and love I got from the crowd was something that I’ll remember forever,” he said after the final.
“That’s the reason on the changeover I just teared up. The emotion, the energy was so strong. It’s as strong as winning 21 Grand Slams. That’s how I felt, honestly. I felt very, very special. They touched my heart, honestly.”
This was a tough pill to swallow for Djokovic but he still heads into next year’s Australian Open as the clear favorite to break the men’s all-time record he currently shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of 20 majors won.
3. Medvedev finally cracks the major code
After losing badly to Djokovic in the Australian Open final last February, Medvedev redeemed himself by executing a perfect strategy on Sunday to clinch his maiden Grand Slam title.
The Russian has been considered the biggest threat to the Big Three’s reign at the majors for the past couple of years and has finally delivered on that promise.
At 25, Medvedev is the youngest men’s Grand Slam winner since Andy Murray’s US Open success in 2012 and he is well-positioned to possibly usurp Djokovic and become the ATP’s next world No.1.
He is charismatic and has a lethal game that blends aggression with defense in rare fashion. Expect more from the tall Russian moving forward.
4. Plenty of young ATP talent to keep an eye on
They may not have reached the finals like their WTA counterparts, but the young guns on the ATP tour also enjoyed a statement US Open.
Between Carlos Alcaraz’s march to the quarterfinals, Holger Rune’s brave showing in his opener against Djokovic, and Jenson Brooksby’s fourth-round outing, the 20-and-under crew on the men’s side has sent out a signal of intent. Let’s see if they can match what Raducanu and Fernandez have achieved in upcoming majors.
5. Wise call from Osaka
Four-time major champion Naomi Osaka served for the match in her third-round clash with Fernandez but could not close. After the contest, she admitted to journalists that she was not feeling joy from winning on the court and needed time away from the game to think about what she really wants.
It was a bold and wise decision from Osaka, who is one of the biggest sports stars to open up important conversations about mental health in recent months. When the world No.5 will return to the tour is unclear, but it takes a lot of courage to publicly express her feelings that way, and allow herself the time and space to figure things out.