NEW YORK (AP) — All four Grand Slam trophies were there. When Novak Djokovic played Daniil Medvedev in the 2021 U.S. Open final — the same two men who will meet Sunday in Arthur Ashe Stadium for the 2023 title — there was more than just the championship of that particular two-week tournament at stake, and the U.S. Tennis Association wanted to be prepared.
Djokovic was attempting to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam by winning all four majors in a single season. So the USTA spent a little more than $50,000 to make sure insured versions of the trophies from the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon were on-site for a postmatch ceremony if Djokovic beat Medvedev that day (he did not; Medvedev’s lone Slam triumph so far came via a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory).
“We knew it couldn’t be as simple as just a presentation of the U.S. Open trophy. It had to be bigger than that,” tournament spokesman Chris Widmaier told The Associated Press on Saturday. “So then the obvious question was: How do we get the other three trophies to New York?”
Widmaier and Michael Fiur, the executive producer of entertainment at the tournament in Flushing Meadows, began planning shortly after Djokovic won Wimbledon in July to add to his Australian Open championship that February and his French Open championship that June. The U.S. Open prize would be on hand, of course. The others took a little more work — and cost.
One thought all along, Widmaier said, was: “What if he doesn’t win?”
Because of travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, the actual Norman Brooks Challenge Cup, given to the Australian Open men’s singles champion, wasn’t going to be able to get to the United States.
The solution? Getting Laver himself to provide a replica he had at home in Carlsbad, California. An employee for an outside consulting firm that helps produce entertainment during the U.S. Open traveled there, met with Laver and collected the trophy, then flew back to New York with the hardware — protected by a custom-built, wood-and-metal carrying case — beside him in a first-class seat.
“You’re not going to check the trophy like luggage,” Widmaier said. “It deserves first-class travel.”
La Coupe des Mousquetaires, awarded to the men’s champion at Roland Garros, was shipped via the Brink’s Company and got held up in customs at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for 48 hours, Widmaier said. But it arrived at the Ashe loading dock via a Brink's truck the Friday before the Sunday final.
The gilded cup given to the Wimbledon men’s titlist was escorted by two people associated with that tournament’s museum.
The three “visiting” trophies were stored down the hall from the Ashe locker rooms in the office of the head of the tournament facility, guarded overnight by a security guard, Widmaier said. They left only briefly, brought to ESPN’s on-site studio on Saturday for what Widmaier called “beauty shots.”
Then the wait began.
Had Djokovic defeated Medvedev, the program for the ceremony after the final would have included an announcement to the crowd and TV audience: “For the first time in history, the four men’s singles Grand Slam trophies are together in one place.” The four would have been displayed on the court, each on its own pedestal that showed the relevant tournament logo.
If Djokovic had taken two sets at any point, meaning he was one set from winning, the trophies would have been moved to outside a doorway leading out to the court.
“We never needed to move the trophies,” Widmaier said.
The next day, the three trophies began their journeys out of New York.
Now, two years later, Djokovic and Medvedev will again decide the U.S. Open men’s champion. This time, Djokovic was quite close to again bidding for a true Grand Slam: He is 26-1 in major matches in 2023, after winning the the Australian Open and French Open, but losing to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final.
Medvedev, who eliminated Alcaraz in the U.S. Open semifinals Friday night, is in his third final at Flushing Meadows in five years and fifth major final overall.
Djokovic is seeking what would be a 24th Grand Slam title, more than anyone in the sport’s Open era, and fourth in New York.
“Every time in a Grand Slam final, it’s another shot for history and I’m aware of it, and of course I’m very proud of it,” Djokovic said. “But I don’t have much time — nor do I allow myself — to reflect on these things or think about the history too much in this sense. Because when I did that in the past, like ’21 finals here, I was maybe overwhelmed with the occasion and the opportunity and I underperformed. So I don’t want this to happen again.”
Howard Fendrich has been the AP's tennis writer since 2002.
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Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press