NEW YORK -- Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Sunday to win the US Open and claim a historic 24th major championship, matching Margaret Court for the most Grand Slam singles titles in tennis history.
It was the latest record-setting milestone for Djokovic, who was already atop the men's Slam list and has now moved one major singles title ahead of Serena Williams to become the first player to win 24 in the Open era. Court also collected a total of 24, but 13 of those came before professionals were admitted to the Slam events.
"To make history [in] this sport is just something truly remarkable and special, obviously, in every possible way, in every possible meaning of the word," the second-seeded Djokovic said on the court following the win. "It's hard to describe the words."
His coach, Goran Ivanisevic, didn't have the same struggle in explaining what he believed the accomplishment meant when speaking to reporters Sunday night.
"He's a genius," Ivanisevic said. "He's one of a kind. Not too many people in this world like him, sportwise.
"This is one of the biggest achievements in sports history. We're not talking about tennis. We are talking generally in sport."
Djokovic has now won titles at exactly one third of the majors he has played in (24 titles in 72 major appearances). He has reached the final in exactly half (36) of the Slams in which he has competed.
"I never imagined that I would be here standing with you talking about 24 Slams. I never thought that would be the reality," said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia who became the tournament's oldest male champion in the Open era, which dates to 1968. "But the last couple of years, I felt I have a chance, I have a shot for history, and why not grab it if it's presented?"
With his fourth title at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic joined Roger Federer as the only players on the men's side with four or more titles at three different majors.
"It obviously means the world to me," said Djokovic, who will return to No. 1 in the rankings on Monday. It will mark his 390th week at No. 1, the most by any player in ATP or WTA rankings history.
Under the roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium due to rain earlier in the day, the capacity crowd, which included a lengthy list of A-list celebrities, showered Djokovic with a standing ovation at the match's conclusion.
He visibly sobbed while lying on the court at the conclusion of the 3-hour, 16-minute match before running over to his box, which included members of his family, his team and actor Matthew McConaughey.
Soon, Djokovic was donning a blue T-shirt that read "Mamba Forever," a tribute to late NBA star Kobe Bryant. On the front was a picture of Bryant and Djokovic, and on the back in purple was the No. 24, one of two numbers Bryant wore during his Hall of Fame career.
Djokovic said he came up with the idea about a week ago as a way to honor his friend. He said he received advice on his own career from Bryant, who died in 2020 in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter Gianna and seven others.
"Kobe was a close friend. We chatted a lot about the winner's mentality when I was struggling with injury and trying to make my comeback, work my way back to the top of the game," Djokovic said. "He was one of the people that I relied on the most."
"He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in the most friendly way," he continued. "So of course what happened a few years ago and him and his daughter passing hurt me deeply, and I thought 24 is the jersey he wore when he became a legend of the Lakers and world basketball, so I thought it could be a nice, symbolic thing to acknowledge him for all the things he's done."
For the third time in his career, Djokovic made it to the finals of all four majors, adding to his victories at the Australian Open in January and French Open in June. He lost in the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz, whom Djokovic will overtake at No. 1 this week. Alcaraz, the defending champion at Flushing Meadows, was eliminated by No. 3 seed Medvedev in the semifinals.
Djokovic was unable to compete in New York a year ago because he isn't vaccinated against COVID-19. Two years ago, he lost in the 2021 final to Medvedev, who denied Djokovic what would have been the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men's tennis since 1969. After early exits in 2020 and 2019, there were many questions about how Djokovic would fare at the year's final major. But apart from needing a five-set comeback over fellow Serbian player Laslo Djere in the third round, Djokovic was rarely tested. He didn't drop a set the rest of the way.
This was Medvedev's fifth Grand Slam final, and he is now 1-4, with two losses to Djokovic and two to Rafael Nadal. Medvedev's one major victory came at that 2021 US Open.
Despite needing to stretch his legs several times and some moments of obvious fatigue, Djokovic was in control from the start on Sunday. He won 12 of the match's first 16 points for a 3-0 lead, and he dominated virtually every statistical category. While the result was a straight-sets victory, Djokovic needed to dig deep to endure several lengthy rallies, including one that lasted 37 shots, and the tiresome second set, which ran 1 hour, 44 minutes.
"I don't think I have ever played a longer set in my life, particularly not on this occasion against a top player like Daniil," Djokovic said. "I think he was probably a better player in the second set. He deserved to win that set more than I did. Somehow, I managed to turn things around in the tiebreak. When it mattered, I put one ball into play more than he did. And that was enough."
After he got through the second-set tiebreak, Djokovic said he was able to regain some of his energy during the break. In the third set, he left little to chance, and Medvedev's fighting spirit seemed to be greatly diminished. Djokovic needed just 44 minutes in the final set.
Following the final point, when his Russian opponent's forehand went into the net, Djokovic said he immediately felt "relief, mostly" then finally let himself appreciate what he had achieved.
"I really did my best in the last 48 hours not to allow the importance of the moment and what's on the line get to my head, because two years ago [in the 2021 final] that's what happened, and I underperformed and I wasn't able to be at my best and I was outplayed," Djokovic said. "So I learned my lesson. My team, my family knew that in the last 24 hours, don't touch me, don't speak to me about, you know, the history of what's on the line.
"I really did my best to keep things quite simple and stick to the routines that brought me to where I am and treat this match really as any other match where I just need to win."
ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.