Daniil Medvedev was relieved to close out his first grand slam title at the US Open after revealing he was cramping in his quest to conquer Novak Djokovic.
Medvedev blitzed world number one and 20-time major champion Djokovic 6-4 6-4 6-4 in the men's final at Flushing Meadows on Sunday.
Djokovic's bid to become just the third man and first since Rod Laver in 1969 to claim a calendar Grand Slam, and to surpass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most major men's titles, was emphatically ended by Medvedev.
Medvedev fired down 16 aces and hit 38 winners in a ruthless display on Arthur Ashe Stadium. However, the second seed conceded he was worried at the end of the third set as he tried to see off Djokovic.
Russian star Medvedev double-faulted twice in succession when his first championship point arrived and gave back one of those breaks to Djokovic, who closed to 5-4. But the former came out to serve again and again served a double on a championship point, though he had another in store and the Serb netted on the backhand.
"I definitely had it [pressure]," Medvedev – who lost to Djokovic in the 2021 Australian Open final, having gone down to Nadal in the 2019 US Open showpiece – told reporters. "I started cramping at 5-3, I think because of the pressure at 5-2 where I had match points, I didn't make it. My legs were gone after 5-3. At 5-4, left leg, I almost couldn't walk. If you really look the replay, when I walked to the towel, my leg was just going behind. I was trying not to show it. If Novak feels it, it's not good.
"Again, 40-15, that's two match points. I was like, C'mon, go for an ace, just try to make it. I had a huge double-fault. Second one was like in the middle of the net. Okay, I have one more. Just try to make a first serve. I made it and I'm really happy."
Medvedev became the first Russian man to win a grand slam since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open.
The 25-year-old also became the ninth different men's champion of the last 14 years in New York, including first-time major winners Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro. During the same time, the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon have each been claimed by four different men.
Medvedev – the second player since Ivan Lendl in 1987 to lose just one set en route to the men's US Open crown after Nadal in 2010 – is the fifth player to clinch a slam final against Djokovic.
He is also the fourth player with four or more wins over Djokovic as world number one, after Nadal (nine), Federer (five) and Murray (five).
"It definitely makes it sweeter [beating a world number one for first major trophy]," Medvedev said. "I mean, a grand slam is a grand slam. I would win it against Botic [Van de Zandschulp] in the final, probably I would be same happy.
"For the confidence and for my future career, knowing that I beat somebody who was 27-0 in a year in grand slams, I lost to him in Australia, he was going for huge history, and knowing that I managed to stop him it definitely makes it sweeter and brings me confidence for what is to come on hard courts so far, but let's see about other surfaces."
Medvedev was also asked about his celebration – the 13-time ATP Tour champion fell to the court after vanquishing Djokovic, with his eyes closed and tongue out.
It was in reference to FIFA's video game and the "dead fish" celebration.
"I like to play FIFA," he said. "I like to play PlayStation. It's called the dead fish celebration. If you know your opponent when you play FIFA, many times you're going to do this. You're going to score a goal, you're up 5-0, you do this one.
"I talked to the guys in the locker, they're young guys, super chill guys. They play FIFA. They were like, That's legendary. Everybody who I saw who plays FIFA thinks that's legendary. That's how I wanted to make it.
"Again, it's not because I want to be on the newspaper talking about FIFA celebration or whatever. I don't care. But I wanted to make it special for people to love, for my friends to love who I play FIFA with. I knew I'm going to make it. I got hurt a little bit. It's not easy to make it on hard courts. I got hurt a little bit, but I'm happy I made it legendary for myself."