Djokovic had been seeking to make history in New York, not only as the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the calendar year Grand Slam, but also a 21st major title, taking him one clear of long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But it proved a bridge too far, with Medvedev dismantling Djokovic in just over two hours to claim his first Grand Slam title, with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Woodbridge acknowledged the tough draw, which saw Djokovic face Matteo Berrettini, Alexander Zverev and Medvedev in his last three matches, but said the big question now surrounds how Djokovic recovers from this year.
He pointed to the example of Mats Wilander, who won three major titles in 1988, culminating in an epic five-set win over Ivan Lendl in the US Open final. But the mountain proved too tough to climb a second time, and he never made another grand slam final.
“I’m not suggesting Novak will fall off a cliff, because he’ll still have the goal of winning a 21st slam, but I think Novak would love it if Rafa came back to challenge him, because that’s the type of motivation an athlete needs,” Woodbridge told Wide World of Sports.
“If Rafa and Roger aren’t there, that’s a much tougher assignment for Novak.
“With sport, things move on really quickly, new stories, new drama is always created. This tournament was a real pivot in the tennis world.
“Things are now going in a completely different direction.”
From the time Federer won his first Wimbledon, in 2003, through until Djokovic’s win at the All England Club this year, the three legends combined to win an incredible 60 out of 72 major titles.
Of the mortals, only Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka were able to win multiple Slams in that period.
“I feel that the era of the ‘Big Three’ is over,” Woodbridge declared.
“Novak may still win one or two more majors, but I think there’s a feeling that this younger generation now see themselves as Grand Slam winners.
“Medvedev, through experience and two Grand Slam final losses, finally got it right. He understood the moment, the enormity of what Novak was trying to achieve, and also what pressure that brought.
“He knew what he needed to do to allow the pressure, and the stress, and the moment to get too large for Novak to handle.”
As the realisation dawned on Djokovic late in the third set that the Grand Slam dream was done, we had the remarkable scenes of the world No.1 sobbing into his towel, while he again teared up during the post-match presentation.
It’s a sight that Woodbridge believes will have energised the younger players.
“I felt that we saw the real human side of it when Novak openly wept before the match was over. We saw inside of Novak, in a way we haven’t previously,” he explained.
“We know the intensity, and the discipline, and the ultra-strong façade of Novak, but we saw him break. Whenever you see that in an athlete, you don’t know how they’re going to recover.
“For so long he’s maintained that aura of invincibility, but once it starts to slowly shed, can he maintain the intensity and the drive to do what he’s achieved in the past?”
Djokovic will, COVID-19 permitting, return to Melbourne Park in January for the Australian Open, a tournament he has won a record nine times, including the last three straight.
Rod Laver Arena is where he feels most comfortable, where his challengers face their toughest test.
But Father Time wins every battle, and Woodbridge says the question will have to be asked: How much does Djokovic have left in the tank?
“He has to have a good Australian Open,” he said.
“If things are going to continue as per normal, he must have a good tournament in Melbourne, otherwise doubts will start to creep in.
“Don’t underestimate the extent to which an athlete will start to question himself, even before the public does.
“When you set goals, they’re so high that you need a series of smaller steps along the way, and for Novak that was Grand Slam title number 15, 16 or 17. Now he needs to win 21, the most ever, and it’s the biggest hurdle of them all.”
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